- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

ATLANTA (AP) Federal health officials confirmed that at least three of the four persons who received transplants from a car-crash victim became infected with West Nile virus, likely through the donated organs.
Officials still haven't determined how the organ donor became infected, but as they investigate, they are trying to track down about 60 people who donated blood that was used in transfusions as doctors tried to save the crash victim.
The cases are the first in which humans are believed to have contracted the disease through something other than a bite from an infected mosquito.
Doctors say the possibility of getting West Nile virus through medical procedures is remote, and there are no plans to screen donated blood and organs for the virus.
"We don't even know for sure whether it's possible to transmit West Nile through transfusion or organ donation," said Dr. Jay Epstein, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's top official for regulating blood products.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that one of the four organ recipients died Aug. 29 in Atlanta. Two others have the virus and have developed encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. West Nile has not been confirmed in the third person, who is recovering from a milder infection.
The organ donor, a woman from Georgia, could have been infected before the crash, or she may have been given West Nile virus through blood transfusions in the emergency room afterward, the CDC said. Health officials have stopped using the donors' blood and said they were searching for about a dozen people who had already received blood from those donors.
Epidemiologists also are trying to detect the virus in the small portion of blood that is routinely kept after each blood transfusion.
So far this year, 32 persons have died of West Nile virus, and more than 670 have been infected. Six potential West Nile deaths were reported Tuesday in three states: Tennessee, Illinois and Kentucky.
The CDC said a test to screen all blood and organ donations for the virus is not currently in the works.


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