Organ transplants are be vital to the health of patients who need them. However, compatibility issues, the wait for organs, and the need to transplant the organs under time pressure can lead to mistakes. The types of mistakes that can occur can include errors during surgery such as leaving objects in the body, or failing to diagnose an infection in the donated organ. Such a mistake could seriously harm a patient or even cause death.
One man in Maryland died due to a kidney he received in a transplant operation being infected with rabies. The operation was a year and a half ago. The recipient of the kidney died on February 27th and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined, after examining the donor’s autopsy tissue, that both the patient and the donor died of the same type of rabies.
Three other patients received organs from the same donor and are now being giving anti-rabies shots. The doctors caring for these three other patients were notified immediately by health officials. Though they do not show any signs of rabies, the three patients are being treated with the rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin. Additionally, the three other recipients, their family, and health care workers who may have had close contact with the donor and the recipient who died are being tested for the disease.
Prior to the transplant, it was known to doctors that the donor suffered from encephalitis which is an inflammation of the brain. Despite this knowledge there was no rabies test performed prior to the donor’s kidneys, heart, and liver being delivered for transplantation. When it was found out that the organs were tainted with rabies, the recipients’’ doctors were shocked. Such an outbreak is extremely rare, with the only other occurrence of rabies among organ recipients occurring in 2004.
One of the reasons organ donors are not tested for rabies is because the disease in humans is very rare. Donors are not even tested if they show signs of rabies. Additionally, if donors were tested for rabies many of the organs to be donated would be lost. There are so few facilities that are able to test humans for rabies that by the time the results came back the organs would no longer be usable for transplant.
One doctor will not take organs from a donor who has died of encephalitis for an unknown reason, except in limited circumstances. Those circumstances are where the recipient’s situation is dire and the patients are fully informed of the risk. Another doctor says that there needs to be standardized rules put in place to aid doctors in determining what needs to be done with organs from a donor who has died of encephalitis and no one knows the reason.
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