Organ Transplant Leaves Four with HIV, Hepatitis C

HIV and Hepatitis C have been transmitted via organ transplants to four people in Chicago, all of whom received organs from the same donor. Now, it turns out that the organ transplant donor was considered “high risk”. This possible case of <"">medical malpractice is raising new questions about what information organ recipients should be told about potential donors.

The HIV infected organs where provided by Gift of Hope, which has acknowledged that the donor was considered “high risk”. Gift of Hope determined the donor’s status through a personal and social history. High-risk behaviors include gay men having sex within the past five years, people having sex for money or drugs within the past five years, and intravenous use of recreational drugs within the past five years. The Centers for Disease Control says people in any of these categories should be excluded as organ donors unless the need outweighs the risks. Gift of Hope would not disclose what type of behavior the donor engaged in that resulted in the high risk classification.

This is the first time in 22 years that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has been transmitted through organ transplants, and the first time ever that a single donor transmitted the virus to four transplant patients. While the donor, who died of an undisclosed traumatic injury, tested negative for HIV, it is believed that the infection was too recent to be detected by the test used. That test will not detect HIV if the infection occurred less than 22 days prior to the test. Another test that can detect HIV sooner is available, but it does not work as quickly. In most cases, an organ transplant must be performed quickly, making the alternative test impractical.

According to the Associated Press, the four patients got their organs in January at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center and the University Of Chicago Medical Center. Two had their operation at the University of Chicago hospital. Their HIV and Hepatitis C infections were discovered about two weeks ago, when one of the four patients was being evaluated for another transplant. Blood tests revealed that patient’s HIV and Hepatitis C infection, and the other patients status was confirmed shortly after. It is not known exactly what organs were transplanted, and the donor has not been identified.

According to the Associated Press, the Chicago hospitals were told of the donors high risk status. However, it is not clear what was relayed to the organ recipients. Patient advocates say that it’s usually up to doctors to inform recipients that a donor engaged in high risk behavior. But often, factors such as time constraints, the condition of the recipient and even the physician’s own opinion prevent such information from being disclosed. But the Chicago HIV organ transplant incident could change that. While many organ transplant recipients might choose to accept an organ from a high donor recipient – especially considering the scarcity of donor organs – the ultimate decision should be theirs.

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