A Maryland resident who died from a rabies infected kidney contracted the disease from an organ transplant operation performed over a year ago, health officials said Friday.
The organ transplant patient, who has not been named, died in late February.
Subsequent tests on the deceased Maryland resident and the donor’s tissue confirmed that both had a type of rabies that is inked to raccoons.
Barbara Reynolds, spokeswoman for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said three other transplant patients who received organs from the same donor were now being evaluated and receiving post-exposure treatment for rabies.
She said between one and three people a year in the United States die from rabies and called the death from a rabies-infected organ transplant extremely rare. “We only know of one other time and that was in 2004,” she added.
The CDC also said in a statement that doctors had not suspected rabies as the cause of death in the donor, who died in Florida in 2011 and was not tested for rabies before the heart, liver and kidneys were harvested for donation.
The harvested organs were given to patients on Maryland, Illinois, Georgia and Florida.
“The organ transplantation occurred more than a year before the recipient developed symptoms and died of rabies,” the CDC said, adding that all potential donors are screened and tested to identify if the donor might present an infectious risk, with special attention given to tests for HIV and hepatitis.
They explained that if rabies is not clinically suspected, laboratory testing for the disease is not routinely performed, as it’s difficult for doctors to confirm results in the short window of time they have to keep the organs viable for the recipient.
The CDC said that despite this case, the benefits of organ transplantation “generally outweigh the risks.”
In the United States, bats are most frequently associated with transmitting rabies to humans. Apart from raccoons, skunks and foxes are among other commonly reported rabid animals.
Rabies is defined as a viral disease which attacks the central nervous system and brain. For a human, rabies is almost invariably fatal if post-exposure prophylaxis — preventative treatments — are not administered before the onset of severe symptoms.