Michigan woman dies after receiving COVID-infected lungs for transplant

The case is the first instance in the U.S. of the coronavirus transmitted via an organ transplant

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A Michigan woman who received a double lung transplant died two months after contracting COVID-19. It turned out that the donor had coronavirus, doctors say. 

The virus was transmitted when lungs from a woman who died from injuries suffered in a car accident, were transplanted into a woman with chronic obstructive lung disease last fall, according to PEOPLE. The procedure was conducted at the University Hospital in Ann Arbor, where a surgeon who handled the lungs was also infected but later recovered. The donor and recipient initially tested negative for the virus, but when the recipient fell severely ill days after the transplant surgery, she was tested again and the results were positive.

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Doctors also tested fluid taken from deep in the lungs of the donor, per the report, and the results were positive. The transplant recipient died 61 days after receiving the new lungs.

The case is believed to be the first documented instance in the U.S. of the coronavirus transmitted via an organ transplant, according to the American Journal of Transplantation.

The organ recipient reportedly deteriorated rapidly after the transplant surgery. She developed multisystem organ failure and septic shock, and doctors tried known treatments for COVID-19.

“We would absolutely not have used the lungs if we’d had a positive COVID test,” lead author Dr. Daniel Kaul, director of the Transplant Infectious Disease Service at the University of Michigan Medical School, told Kaiser Health News

“All the screening that we normally do and are able to do, we did,” Kaul said.

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a report recently that examined donor organs and recipient infections in eight possible cases and noted that the “findings suggest the most likely source of transmission was community or healthcare exposure.” 

Meanwhile, viral transmissions from organ donors to recipients reportedly happen in less than 1% of patients. Health officials are urging patients in need of a transplant not to fear contracting the virus via donor organs.

“The risks of turning down transplants are catastrophic,” said Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer with the United Network for Organ Sharing. “I don’t think patients should be afraid of the transplant process.”

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