A Maryland man who two weeks ago became the state’s first fatal case of rabies in nearly 40 years contracted the infection from a kidney transplant, according to two people familiar with the case.
Three people in other states received organs from the same donor, but their conditions were not immediately known.
The recipient died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington after being in the hospital for about a month, according to the people with knowledge of the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He had received a kidney from a Florida man in an operation at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2011.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared rabies virus obtained from the recipient and determined that it was genetically identical to the virus recovered from the organ’s donor, said the two people involved in the case.
CDC officials were expected to announce some details of the case Friday.
Untreated rabies is almost always fatal. People vaccinated after becoming infected but before symptoms develop usually survive. For that reason, finding the other people who received organs — reportedly a kidney, heart and liver — is urgent.
Transmission of rabies through organ or tissue transplant is extremely rare. Four people in Texas died in 2004 from rabies contracted from a single donor’s tissue. There have been at least eight cases around the world contracted through cornea transplants.
Investigation of the case involves county, state, federal and military epidemiologists, physicians and laboratory scientists.
Rabies was suspected shortly before the recipient’s death but was not confirmed until his brain was examined in an autopsy. The idea that he could have contracted the infection from the transplanted kidney was initially doubted because of the extremely long time — about 15 months — between the surgery and his death. The incubation of rabies cases is rarely longer than three months.