Receiving the Unwanted Gift: Infection Transmission through Organ Transplantation

Varvara A. Kirchner, Timothy L. Pruett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Infections are common in the general U.S. population, so it is inevitable that some persons with a potentially transmissible disease will become organ donors. There are numerous reports of viral, parasitic, fungal, and bacterial transmission through transplantation. At the same time, immunosuppression increases the risk of infection in organ recipients, so attribution of infectious diseases to the transplanted organ is often difficult. Method: Review of the English-language literature. Results: The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network states that all potential deceased organ donors must be assessed for conditions that may influence donor acceptance. The infections most often transmitted knowingly to organ recipients are cytomegalovirus and hepatitis C virus. There was a 43% increase in the number of potential donor-derived transmission events between 2012 and 2013, but this affected only 3% of transplants; and the patterns of unexpected infection transmissions have remained fairly constant. The 2013 recognition of a case of raccoon rabies in a kidney recipient brought the risk of untested pathogens back into the general discussion of disease transmission. Also, unexpected transmissions of parasitic infection have resulted in highly visible recipient deaths. Conclusions: Organ transplantation has been an enormous advance in the treatment of chronic diseases, but the risk of unanticipated disease transmission has been gaining attention. The task for the organ donation community is to assess risk of transmission of clinically relevant diseases accurately without substantially diminishing organ availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-322
Number of pages5
JournalSurgical infections
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2016, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2016.


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