A woman died not long after getting Covid-19 from transplanted lungs

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  • An American woman contracted Covid-19 from her donor's lungs during transplant surgery and died two months later
  • This is the first confirmed case of Covid transmission through organ transplant
  • A doctor involved in the surgery also contracted Covid but recovered

Receiving a donated organ is usually a life-enhancing event, but it cost a woman, who contracted Covid-19 through a double-lung transplant, her life just two months after the procedure.

The donor, who died in a car accident, was infected with Covid-19, even though standard nasal swab tests came back negative.

"We would absolutely not have used the lungs if we'd had a positive Covid test," Dr Daniel Kaul, director of Michigan Medicine's transplant infectious disease service and lead author of the report, told Kaiser Health News.

The report was published in the American Journal of Transplantation this month, and, according to the doctors, it is the first confirmed case of Covid transmission through an organ transplant.

The surgeon involved in carrying out the transplant also contracted Covid, which likely happened during the transplant surgery, the report noted, although the surgeon later recovered, Kaiser Health News reported.

What happened to the recipient?

The lung transplant recipient was a woman from Michigan with chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). Although her transplant surgery proceeded without a hitch, she developed a fever and breathing problems three days after the operation and was put on a ventilator.

Her standard Covid test taken 12 hours before the surgery was negative, but doctors found a sample of fluid that had been washed through the donor's lungs. This sample tested positive for Covid-19.

To confirm that the woman contracted Covid-19 from the donor’s lungs, genetic sequencing was performed. It showed that the virus infecting the recipient and the donor were identical.

Despite extensive treatment, the woman developed multi-organ failure and died two months later. 

Call for appropriate screening

Although unexpected transmission of infection from donor to recipient is uncommon and occurs in fewer than 1% of transplant recipients, the doctors said that this case raises questions regarding the appropriate Covid screening for potential donors.

They are, therefore, calling for more extensive testing of donors to prevent such transmission from occurring again, as well as for healthcare workers involved in lung procurement and transplantation to consider using enhanced personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks and eye protection, even if donors test negative for the virus.

READ | Long Covid: In some people with mild illness, symptoms can linger for up to 9 months, study

READ | Hindsight is 2020: Three lessons from our second wave

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Image: Getty/FG Trade

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