A Maryland man is dead after receiving an organ transplant from a donor infected with rabies. It’s an awful story that doesn’t seem to have a simple solution and could have a higher death toll. The donor was not suspected of having the infectious disease and his or her organs were given to three other individuals as well, who are now being treated with anti-rabies shots.
The main question out of this tragedy is whether or not hospitals should be testing every organ donor for rabies. Ideally, each donor would be tested for everything under the sun to make sure that recipients had the best chance of surviving. But the sad reality is that every minute in important when transferring organs and there might not be enough time to check everything.
So just how big of a problem is rabies in humans? Is it prevalent enough that doctors should be testing for it in every circumstance, even when it’s not suspected?
According to the World Health Organization, there are about 55,000 deaths to rabies around the world every year. As is widely known, the disease is normally transferred to humans through animal bites. The testing used to diagnose rabies in humans is extensive and time-consuming, which is why health officials normally try to diagnose the disease in the animal thought to transmit it first before even attempting to run tests on a human.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control say that there are approximately 40,000 cases of year where treatment for rabies is given to people who suffer from animal bites. While the majority of rabies infections are thought to be in wild animals, humans are more likely to come into contact with the disease through domesticated pets. However, even with this high infection rate of an extremely deadly disease, fatalities of rabies in the US are extremely rare. Since the 1990s, there’s only been one or two rabies deaths a year in America.
While the story of this Maryland man’s death is extremely tragic, it sounds like a horrible accident, and one that really couldn’t have been prevented. If rabies wasn’t suspected in the donor’s death and no animal bite was originally reported, the hospital had no cause to run the extensive tests needed to determine the presence of the rabies virus before donating the organs.
We can only hope that the other organ recipients will respond well to treatment and survive the horrible incident.