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Rabies Death Shines Spotlight on Transplant Safety

After a man died from rabies following a kidney transplant, patient safety advocates are calling for additional organ screening procedures. The Centers for Disease Control has confirmed that the Maryland patient contracted the infection through organ transplantation performed more than a year ago. The patient was one of four people who had received an organ from the same donor.

Prior to transplant, state and federal regulations require that all organ donors be screened and tested to identify if the donor might present an infectious risk. The process involves a series of questions posed to family and close contacts, a physical examination, and infectious disease testing. Doctors are also required to inform donor recipients of all potential risks.

Unfortunately, the screening process does not always work as intended. From 2007 to 2010, the CDC investigated more than 200 cases of suspected unexpected transmission, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV), through transplants. Of those that were confirmed, some resulted in the death of the transplant recipient.

In the wake of the recent rabies case, many argue that it may be time to reassess whether current screening procedures sufficiently protect patients.