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Illinois: CDC Probes HIV Cases Among Transplant Recipients

November 15, 2007

CDC and local officials are investigating whether four Chicago patients who contracted HIV and hepatitis C from transplanted organs may have transmitted the diseases to others before they learned they were infected. Though the operations occurred in January, the patients were informed of their infections only in the past two weeks.

The donor was known to have engaged in high-risk activity, but pre-transplant tests did not find the infections, probably because they were too recently acquired to generate antibodies. When organs are transplanted from such donors, CDC recommends that the recipients be tested three months after their surgeries.

That three of Chicago's biggest hospitals -- Rush University Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and the University of Chicago Medical Center -- appear not to have followed the guidelines is cause for concern, said Dr. Matthew Kuehnert, director of blood, organ, and tissue safety with CDC. "It's hard to know how often recipients who get organs from high-risk donors are tested. I don't see a downside to testing," Kuehnert said.

Though the investigation is ongoing, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Public Health said there is no indication at this point that the infections spread beyond the organ recipients.

Some experts say the incident shows that organ banks should follow the example of blood and tissue banks, which run not only antibody tests but also the more sophisticated NAAT assays that can detect viral genetic material much sooner after infection. But unlike blood and tissue, which can be safely stored during the day or two the tests are run on large batches, organs can be stored only briefly -- just four hours, in the case of hearts and lungs.

Still, Dr. James Burdick, chief of the transplantation division at the Health Resources and Services Administration, offered this reassurance: "The chances of acquiring HIV from a donor are vanishingly small, and this one case doesn't prove differently."

Back to other news for November 2007

Adapted from:
Chicago Tribune
11.13.2007; Jeremy Manier

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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