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Published On: Fri, Mar 15th, 2013

Maryland resident contracted rabies through organ transplant: CDC

In a follow-up to a story Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have confirmed that a patient who recently died of rabies in Maryland contracted the infection through organ transplantation done more than a year ago, according to a CDC press statement today.

Health officials say the patient was was one of four people who had received an organ from the same donor.

Raccoon Image/CDC

Raccoon
Image/CDC

In early March, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene initiated an investigation after the organ recipient died, which led to the rabies diagnosis. The investigation revealed that the organ recipient had no reported animal exposures, the usual source of rabies transmission to humans, and identified the possibility of transplant-related transmission of rabies, which is extremely rare.

The organ transplantation occurred more than a year before the recipient developed symptoms and died of rabies; this period is much longer than the typical rabies incubation period of 1 to 3 months, but is consistent with prior case reports of long incubation periods.

CDC’s preliminary laboratory analysis indicates that the recipient and the donor both had the same type of rabies virus—a raccoon type.  This type of rabies virus can infect not only raccoons, but also other wild and domestic animals.

According to the CDC,  the donor became ill and was admitted to a healthcare facility in Florida in 2011 and then died.  At that time, the donor’s organs, including the kidneys, heart, and liver, were recovered and sent to recipients in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and Maryland. At the time of the donor’s death, rabies was not suspected as the cause and testing for rabies was not performed.

Rabies was only recently confirmed as the cause of death after the current investigation began in Maryland.

Shortly before becoming ill, the donor had moved to Florida, but was a previous resident of North Carolina where it is believed the exposure may have occurred.  How the donor may have gotten rabies is currently under investigation.

The three other people who received organs from the donor have been identified and are currently being evaluated by their healthcare teams and receiving rabies anti-rabies shots (immune globulin and anti-rabies vaccination).  CDC is working with public health officials and healthcare facilities in five states (Fla., Ga., Ill., Md., and N.C.) to identify people who were in close contact with the initial donor or the four organ recipients and might need rabies post-exposure treatment.

All potential organ donors in the United States are screened and tested to identify if the donor might present an infectious risk. Organ procurement organizations are responsible for evaluating the suitability of each organ donor. Donor eligibility is determined through a series of questions posed to family and close contacts, a physical examination, and infectious disease testing, including HIV and hepatitis. There are typically one to three cases of human rabies diagnosed annually in the United States each year.  If rabies is not clinically suspected, laboratory testing for rabies is not routinely performed, as it is difficult for doctors to confirm results in the short window of time they have to keep the organs viable for the recipient.

Organ screening is designed to ensure safe and successful transplantations.  The benefits from transplanted organs generally outweigh the risk for transmission of infectious diseases from screened donors.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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  1. Florida reports 2nd human rabies death in recent months - Outbreak News Today says:

    […] Maryland resident contracted rabies through organ transplant: CDC […]

  2. The Top 10 Infectious Disease and Outbreak News stories of 2013 - The Global Dispatch says:

    […] For the first time since 1976, Maryland reported a human rabies death. What made this story even more unusual, the patient contracted the lethal virus via an organ transplant a year earlier. […]

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