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This COVID Transmission Is First of Its Kind

Woman received a double-lung transplant, but they were unknowingly infected with coronavirus
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2021 11:59 AM CST
Updated Feb 27, 2021 2:45 PM CST

(Newser) – A woman received two new lungs in a double transplant last year, but it turns out the lungs were unknowingly infected with COVID-19, reports Kaiser Health News. The unidentified woman died last fall, two months after the operation in Michigan. It's the first confirmed case of the virus being transmitted via transplant, and it's leading to calls for more thorough screening of donors. In this case, staff at University Hospital in Ann Arbor conducted the usual tests on nose and throat samples from the donor, who died in a car accident, and both were negative. What they didn't realize was that the virus was present deep within the donor's lungs—something that was confirmed in saved samples only after the transplant recipient started having breathing and heart troubles, spiked a fever, and went into septic shock. In their report in the American Journal of Transplantation, researchers say that level of testing should become part of transplant protocol.

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"We would absolutely not have used the lungs if we'd had a positive COVID test," Dr. Daniel Kaul, director of Michigan Medicine's transplant infectious disease service and a co-author of the report, tells Kaiser. The recipient's troubles began three days after the operation, and her complications escalated from there. The surgeon who conducted the operation also tested positive for COVID days later but recovered. Genetic screening revealed that both were infected by the donor. It's a "tragic case," says Kaul. WCJB, meanwhile, reports on a transplant case with a happy outcome. Utah ICU nurse Jill Holker contracted COVID herself and was taken to Florida for a double lung transplant of her own. Last week, Holker walked out of UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville after months of rehab as hospital staff cheered her on. (Read more lung transplants stories.)

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