A Michigan woman died after contracting COVID-19 after receiving a tainted double-lung transplant. Doctors say the donor harbored the virus that causes the disease even though the donor show no signs of illness and tested negative for the virus.
According to NBC News, officials at the University of Michigan Medical school say the case may be the first proven in the U.S. in which the virus was transmitted through an organ transplant.
A surgeon involved in the transplant also became infected and fell ill but recovered.
Out of 40,000 transplants in 2020, the Michigan woman’s incident appears isolated and is the only confirmed case.
Doctors and medical officials are now calling for more thorough testing of lung transplant donors, including samples taken from deep within their lungs as well as their nose and throat, Dr. Daniel Kaul, the director of Michigan Medicine’s transplant infectious disease service, stated.
“We would absolutely not have used the lungs if we’d had a positive Covid test,” he added.
The Michigan woman, who suffered from chronic obstructive lung disease, received the lungs from a woman who died from a severe brain injury due to a car accident in the upper Midwest. The surgery took place at University Hospital in Ann Arbor.
The commonly collected nose and throat samples were taken from both the donor and the recipient came back negative for SARS-CoV-2.
“All the screening that we normally do and are able to do, we did,” Kaul said.
However, three days later, the recipient came down with a fever, and her blood pressure fell. She also had labored breathing, and her lung images showed signs of infection.
After her conditions worsened and she went into septic shock and showed signs of heart function problems, the doctors chose to test her for the virus. Samples from her new lungs came back positive, the news outlet reported.
Since the donor’s molecular test–a swab of the donor’s nose and throat–returned negative, doctors took a sample of fluid washed from deep within the donor’s lungs to see if it was positive for the virus. The results came back positive.
The transplant recipient’s health quickly deteriorated, and she developed multisystem organ failure. Doctors tried treating her with COVID-19 treatments, including remdesivir, a newly approved drug, and convalescent blood plasma from people previously infected with the disease.
She was placed on the last remaining option of ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, but unfortunately, that did not work. Life support was withdrawn, and she died 61 days after receiving her transplant.
Dr. Kaul said the incident was “a tragic case.”