At least two people in China one year ago are believed to have contracted rabies after receiving kidneys from a common organ donor, according to Chinese researchers in a paper published in the journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases.

China /CIA
China /CIA

The donor was a 6-year-old boy who lived in Guangxi Province, a region with high numbers of human rabies cases, which died  from acute progressive encephalitis of unknown cause.

His kidneys and corneas were collected for transplantation. The kidneys were transplanted in two individuals–a 55-year-old man who lived in Hebei Province and a 43-year-old man from Liaoning Province.

Both kidney recipients died within weeks post-transplantation from rabies which was confirmed based on rabies-positive RT-PCR results. There was no history of animal bites or scratches for either patient.

In additional, corneal transplants were performed on two other recipients but remained well after receiving timely rabies prophylaxis.

Researchers conclude based on the findings of the study:

Rabies in the 2 kidney transplant recipients probably resulted from rabies virus transmitted from the common organ donor. Our findings show that the donor was probably exposed to dogs at home and had symptoms typical of rabies, that neither kidney recipient had a history of exposure to animals with suspected rabies, and that both recipients had posttransplant symptoms of rabies and were PCR-positive for the virus. Further confirmation could not be done because the donor, who was diagnosed with infectious encephalitis, was cremated after organs and tissues were collected for transplantation, and no clinical specimens were kept by the hospital. Thus, we could not confirm rabies in the donor by laboratory methods.