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Kidney Transplant Patient Dies of Rabies

Filed March 18th, 2013 F.A. Kelley

A patient who received a kidney transplant in a Maryland hospital died of rabies, health officials said. The patient, who was not identified, died after allegedly contracting the disease from the implanted organ. Three other patients received organs from the same donor and were being treated for the disease.

Surgeons were unaware that the donor had rabies and, therefore, he was not tested for the virus before his heart, liver and kidneys were removed, The New York Times said. This marks the second time in the United States that transplanted organs have spread rabies, Dr. Matthew J. Kuehnert of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told The Times. The first occurrence was in 2004, when three people who received organs from one donor died of rabies.

In the latest rabies incident, the donor died in Florida in 2011, and his organs went to recipients there and in Georgia, Illinois and Maryland, The Times said. More than a year passed before the recipient in Maryland became ill with rabies and died. Upon testing, it was determined that the rabies was a strain found in raccoons. Since the patient had no known exposure to raccoons, doctors ran tests to see if the transplant may have been the source. Stored tissue samples from the donor tested positive for the exact strain of rabies that killed the recipient, The Times said.

Although, this type of death is rare, when infections occur in transplant patients they can be deadly because the drugs used to prevent patients from rejecting transplants work by suppressing the immune system. This leaves a patient vulnerable to an infection.

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