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May 27, 2005 |

The death of six organ transplant recipients from a viral infection known as LCMV (lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus), or rodent virus, within six months has health officials concerned with the adequacy of current testing procedures used on donated organs. The recent discovery that this virus, as well as other diseases like rabies and West Nile virus, could spread through donated organs and blood transfusions has experts worried that this may have been going on without detection for some time.

While the rodent virus deaths in Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts are rare occurrences, the fact that they happened at all is a matter of concern that brings into question the scope of the tests done on donated organs. Routine testing is already done for many, but not all, viruses. There is no commercial test for LCMV.

Since donor organs may be dispersed to many recipients throughout the country as part of a nation-wide donor-organ network, the problem can be especially serious. For example, if two kidneys, two lungs, a heart, a liver, and two corneas are harvested from one donor in New York City, they might be tested and then immediately dispersed to eight different hospitals around the country. If the donor was suffering from LCVM, a life and death medical emergency might unfold as to eight unsuspecting transplant recipients in eight widely separated cities. As in the Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts cases, by the time the problem is discovered it might already be too late.

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