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Rabies Deaths Linked to Organ Transplants

Donor Transmitted Deadly Disease to 3 Organ Transplant Recipients

Rabies Strain Usually Found in Bats continued...

The virus lives within the nervous system and is not found in the blood or detected by standard screening tests. In addition, symptoms of rabies may emerge as late as one year after infection, which would make screening for the disease difficult.

Experts say the virus was most likely passed via the nerves within the organs that were taken from the donor.

Human-to-human transmission of rabies is also very rare and has been documented in only two cases in Ethiopia. Officials believe those cases may have been caused by direct contact with saliva of an infected individual from a kiss or a bite.

But the CDC is working with all the states and hospitals involved to determine who came in contact with the donor and the recipients and who might need shots to prevent rabies.

The hospitals that cared for the donor and transplant recipients include:

  • Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas
  • University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital, Birmingham, Alabama
  • Christus Saint Michael Healthcare Center, Texarkana, Texas
  • Wadley Regional Medical Center, Texarkana, Texas
  • Good Shepherd Medical Center, Longview, Texas

Rabies can be prevented if a series of six shots is given over a 28-day period to boost the body's defenses against the virus.

However, once symptoms develop, rabies is nearly always fatal. Early symptoms in humans are non-specific and include fever, headache, and general malaise. As the condition progresses, other symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Slight or partial paralysis
  • Excitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Excessive salivation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fear of water

SOURCES: CDC telebriefing, July 1, 2004. News release, CDC. Mitchell Cohen, MD, director, coordinating center for infectious diseases, CDC. Virginia McBride, public health organ donation specialist, Health Resources and Services Association. Daniel H. Hayes, MS, United Network for Organ Sharing. CDC.

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