A person who received a transplanted organ has died of rabies transmitted from the deceased donor, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today.
The donor’s kidneys, heart and liver went to four recipients in 2011. The other three, including a resident in northeastern Illinois, have no symptoms of rabies but are being given anti-rabies shots as a precaution, health officials said.
Maryland health authorities launched an investigation after one of the recipients died there earlier this month.
The investigation determined that the person had no reported contact with animals, the usual way rabies is transmitted, and identified the possibility that rabies had been transmitted through the transplant.
This week, CDC laboratories confirmed it by testing tissue samples from the donor and from the recipient who died.
Such cases are extremely rare. The first case of rabies transmission through a “solid organ” transplant was identified in 2004, according to the CDC. The disease also has been passed through transplants of the cornea.
Rabies is a preventable viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal — in the case of the organ donor, it was a raccoon.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately damaging the brain if anti-rabies shots aren’t administered promptly.
The organ donor lived in North Carolina but died in Florida. The recipients were from Florida and Georgia in addition to Illinois and Maryland.
The CDC said it is working with public health officials and health facilities in all five states to identify people who were in close contact with the initial donor or the four organ recipients and who might need treatment for rabies.