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New Virus Tied to 3 Transplant Deaths

Newly Discovered Arenavirus Linked to Organ Donor and His Liver, Kidney Recipients
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 6, 2008 -- A newly discovered arenavirus, a type of virus carried by rodents, is being blamed for the deaths of three Australian women who received tainted organ transplants.

Two of the women got kidney transplants; the third got a liver transplant. All of those organs came from an Australian man who died of a cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) after a three-month trip to the former Yugoslavia.

Doctors don't know if the man was exposed to rodents on the trip. But they suggest that it's possible, since he traveled in rural areas of the former Yugoslavia.

The women who received transplants from the man died within four to six weeks of their transplants, report Columbia University's Gustavio Palacios, PhD, and colleagues.

Arenaviruses aren't new. The first arenavirus was isolated in 1933, according to the CDC.

The innovative techniques used by Palacios' team to identify the new arenavirus in the deceased organ donor and organ transplant recipients may "ultimately transform microbiologic testing," writes Richard Whitley, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in an editorial.

The study and editorial appear in today's "online first" edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

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