After Infected Organ Donor In MD, Should We Fear Transplants? - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

After Infected Organ Donor In MD, Should We Fear Transplants?

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MARYLAND  - More than 98,000 Americans are currently waiting for kidney transplants.

"The numbers are staggering," says Nicole Scharf, senior director of field services for the Eastern Shore Kidney Foundation.

However, a recent case of rabies has Maryland health officials recommending more extensive screening for transplants. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently finished an investigation in which the patient died more than one year after receiving a kidney from a rabies-infected donor.

Dr. Katherine Feldman, state public health veterinarian with the Maryland Department of Health and Public Hygiene, says this is a very unusual case.

"Human rabies in the United States is extremely rare, and rabies coming from other sources than wildlife is extraordinarily rare."

"It's not something that's really common but it can happen, and we just want people to know what precautions to take so it doesn't," says Scharf.

Many precautions are also requirements for kidney donors. Officials with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) say that there is an extensive screening process that includes a physical exam and blood tests, including testing for more common diseases such as HIV.

"It's a rigorous process that you go through when you're on the transplant list, both the donor and the recipient," says Scharf. "It's a long process."

The screening process reportedly does not include a rabies test because of the amount of time it takes. Joel Newman, a communications spokesman for UNOS says that for those in desperate need of an organ, the risk of not getting the proper organ is much greater than the risk of rabies. He assures that while cases like the incident in Maryland are extremely unfortunate, they are also very rare.

Scharf says that she has worked with patients who have had amazing success stories, along with patients who have had to receive three different kidney transplants due to complications.

"It's really a case by case thing you just have to have a really good, honest, open relationship with your physician, and know what your risks are and know what your options are to be able to make the right decision for yourself."

Scharf believes that people should not fear the risk that comes with organ donation.

"It saves lives, many people would not have necessarily survived or lived as good of a quality of life without the transplant. "With anything that we do in life there's not always a guarantee."

Scharf is urging the public to be educated, and find out as much information as possible before making any decisions about either being an organ donor, or receiving a transplant. For more information, visit the National Kidney Foundation website or the UNOS website.

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