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Article updated: 3/18/2013 7:50 AM

Illinois person got organ transplant from donor with rabies

By Mike Riopell

SPRINGFIELD -- A person in northeastern Illinois is receiving precautionary treatment after getting an organ transplanted from a donor who died of rabies, state health officials say.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also is working with state and local health officials to identify any medical workers who might need treatment.

The recipient of another organ from the donor, a patient in Maryland, recently died of rabies.

The unidentified patient in northeastern Illinois has not shown symptoms of rabies but has started a series shots meant to prevent rabies, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago confirmed the Illinois transplant was performed there and that its doctors are administering the rabies treatment to that recipient, the Associated Press reported.

The organ transplant was in 2011, and testing has shown the organ donor, who reportedly was living in Florida, had rabies.

"Laboratory testing confirmed a person who died and donated organs in 2011 and one of the organ recipients recently died of rabies," state health officials said in a release.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Lamar Hasbrouck said the transfer of rabies between humans is rare.

"There is no ongoing threat of rabies to the public associated with this situation," Hasbrouck said in a statement.

Rabies is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an animal, and the disease being transferred via organ donation is "very rare," the department said. Organ donors are not routinely screened for the disease.

"If rabies is not clinically suspected, laboratory testing for rabies is not routinely performed, as it is difficult for doctors to confirm results in the short window of time they have to keep the organs viable for the recipient," reads a news release from the Centers for Disease Control.

"The benefits from transplanted organs generally outweigh the risk for transmission of infectious diseases from screened donors," the CDC added.

Symptoms of rabies tend to be flu-like at the beginning, according to the CDC website. As the disease progresses, a person can experience "delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia."

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