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Four transplant recipients contract HIV from donor

The New York Times reported that four transplant recipients contracted HIV from an infected donor, which was the first case the virus has been spread through transplants in at least 13 years.

Hepatitis C was also tranmitted to all four patients. This is the first time that any recipient of an organ transplant has contracted both HIV and hepatitis C.

The occurance of this is rare, but it does point to the inadequate testing process for organ donation. The most commonly used test fails to detect diseases if they are administered too early in the course of the disease.

The Associated Press reported that the transplants took place in January at three different hospitals in Chicago, including University of Chicago Medical Center, Rush University Medical Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The recipients didn't find out about their contraction of the diseases until the last two weeks, medical officials said.

The screening questionaire administered by the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donation in Elmhurst, Ill., stated that the donor had said they took part in high-risk behavior, the New York Times reported.

Their test for HIV and hepatitis, however, came back negative. Therefore the doctors at the hospitals in Chicago went ahead with the transplants.

It is probable that the donor contracted the diseases weeks before their death, medical officials said.

"Dr. J. Michael Millis, the chief of transplantation at the University of Chicago, said the patients were devastated, and the doctors heartbroken," the New York Times reported. "But Dr. Millis said the diseases were treatable."

The ELISA test is the most commonly used, but often fails to detect the viruses in donors that have recently been infected.

Another, more sensitive test known at the NAAT test is more likely to pick-up viral infections earlier, but is expensive and very inefficient. Time is of essence with transplants because the organs go bad very quickly after a donor has died, doctors said.

Dr. Robert Brown, director of the liver transplant program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia told the New York Times, “There is always a drive toward better testing, but if it leads to more organ wastage, we’ll probably hurt more people than we help.?