Petsmart Lawsuit Alleges Transplant Patient’s Death Caused by Sick Hamster

Petsmart, Inc.—the nation’s largest specialty pet store—is being sued by Nancy Magee who claims her husband, Thomas, died following a <"">liver transplant wherein the liver was contaminated by a sick hamster sold by Petsmart to the organ donor.  The lawsuit was filed in Massachusetts Superior Court this February and was moved to U.S. District Court in Boston this week.  The suit seeks unspecified damages.

In court papers, Magee charged that in March 2005, a Warwick, Rhode Island Petsmart sold a hamster infected with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, or LCMV, to a woman not named in the suit.  The unnamed woman later died of a stroke and her liver was transplanted into Thomas Magee in April 2005.  One month following transplantation, Thomas Magee died of LCMV.  The suit states two other people who received transplants with organs from the unnamed woman died and a third became seriously ill.  The suit also notes that medical authorities confirmed the hamster in question to be infected with LCMV.

LCM, is a rodent-borne viral infectious disease found in the saliva, urine, and feces of infected mice who carry and shed LCMV for the duration of their lives without showing any sign of illness.  While hamsters, are not the natural carriers of the disease, they can become infected from wild mice at the breeder, pet store, or home environment.  While humans are more likely to contract LCMV from house mice, infections from pet rodents have been reported.  Person-to-person transmission is rare outside of transmission from an infected mother to fetus; however, recent investigations confirm organ transplantation as a means of transmission.

LCMV normally has little effect on healthy people but can be fatal for those whose immune system has been compromised, such as organ transplant recipients.  For those, symptoms appear one-to-two weeks following exposure with the first phase lasting a week and consisting of fever, malaise, lack of appetite, muscle aches, headache, nausea, and vomiting.  Other symptoms that appear less frequently include sore throat, cough, joint pain, chest pain, testicular pain, and parotid (salivary gland) pain.  After a few days of recovery, the second phase occurs which consists of meningitis symptoms—fever, headache, and a stiff neck—or encephalitis symptoms—drowsiness, confusion, sensory disturbances, and/or motor abnormalities, such as paralysis.  LCMV can cause acute hydrocephalus, which is increased fluid on the brain and usually requires surgical shunting.  In rare instances, infection results in myelitis—spinal cord inflammation—with muscle weakness, paralysis, or changes in body sensation.  There has been some link
between the virus and myocarditis—heart muscle inflammation.

Recently, a 15-year-old boy’s parents donated their son’s organs following his death from bacterial meningitis.  His organs were deemed healthy for transplantation, but instead of having died from bacterial meningitis, the family learned the boy died of a rare lymphoma, a diagnosis in which his organs would not have been transplanted.  Two patients who received the boy’s organs died of the same rare lymphoma and two other’s are undergoing chemotherapy.  In those cases when lymphoma-diseased organs have been transmitted, the results have been devastating.

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