Rare rabies death was from kidney transplant

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A Maryland man died from a transplanted, rabies-infected kidney that came from a donor who was not known to have the disease, a rare death that prompted authorities to treat three other transplant patients, US health officials said Friday.

The man who died had received the kidney more than a year ago. The recipients of the donor’s other kidney, heart, and liver are getting anti-rabies shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Those patients live in Florida, Georgia, and Illinois.

The donor died in Florida in 2011 after moving there from North Carolina.


The Defense Department confirmed that the donor was a 20-year-old man who had been in the Air Force for about 17 weeks before he died. He was training to become an aviation mechanic in Pensacola, Fla., when he became sick.

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The Maryland patient’s death more than a week ago prompted an investigation by state health officials that led to the announcement Tuesday of the state’s first human death from rabies since 1976. Such deaths are rare, with typically just one to three cases diagnosed per year in the United States, the CDC said.

The investigation revealed that the Maryland recipient had no reported animal exposures. Investigators confirmed that both the Maryland recipient and the Florida donor died from the same type of raccoon rabies virus, the CDC said.

This type of type of rabies virus can infect not only raccoons, but other animals. In the United States, only one other person is reported to have died from a raccoon-type rabies virus, the CDC said.

The organ transplants occurred more than a year before the recipient became ill and died, much longer than the typical rabies incubation period of one to three months. But there have been other cases of such long incubation periods, the CDC said.


At the time of the donor’s death, rabies was not suspected as the cause and testing for rabies was not performed, the CDC said. Rabies was only recently confirmed as the cause of death, the agency said.

Associated Press