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Are Organ Transplants Safe If The Donor Was Infected With COVID-19?

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While extremely rare, research compiled in a 2019 review published in Transplantation Direct confirmed that infectious disease transfer between organ donors and recipients is possible.

Within the medical community, special areas of interest for transplant researchers over the years have included transmission rates of viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. But what about the COVID-19 virus?

As the world continues to learn more about the nature of COVID-19, scientists are now exploring whether or not the transfer of Coronavirus infection through organ donation should be of concern to recipients and healthcare workers.

In preliminary research conducted by the medical team at Duke University, researchers examined a group of transplant procedures involving donations of six abdominal organs.

Two livers and two kidney/pancreas pairs were given to four unvaccinated recipients from four deceased donors with confirmed cases of COVID-19 who had been tested for the virus via the nose and throat and/or the lungs during their terminal illness.

Organ type, symptom severity, the risk for blood clots, and transplant urgency were all factored in by researchers when evaluating donors, organ viability, and patient risk (via HealthDay). 

What the study findings reveal about COVID-19 positive donors

In a follow-up period conducted over 46 days post-procedure, no instances of COVID-19 infection occurred within any of the organ recipients or the healthcare workers involved in their treatment, according to EurekAlert!.

Co-author of the study Dr. Emily Eichenberger explains the significance of their study findings, saying, “While limited, our experience to date supports the use of abdominal organs from COVID-19-positive donors as safe and effective, even those actively infected, or with lung disease caused by COVID-19” (via EurekAlert!). The team’s research will be presented in late April to the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, 106,235 men, women, and children are currently awaiting an organ transplant, with a new person added to the national waiting list every 9 minutes.

While more research is still needed across countries worldwide, this initial study shows promise that organs from COVID-19-positive donors need not be counted out during the pandemic — a time when transplant organs are already in short supply (per HealthDay).

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