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Md. Man Who Died of Rabies Contracted It from Kidney Donation

Update Date: Mar 15, 2013 01:27 PM EDT

The patient who died from rabies in Maryland contracted the disease through an organ donation. The other three people who received organs from the same donor are currently undergoing medical evaluations and anti-rabies treatment.

The recipient in Maryland marked the first human death from rabies in over 40 years. He had not come into contact with animals before his death; normally, the disease is transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal, like a bat, fox or raccoon. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that he had contracted rabies from a donated kidney that he had received more than a year prior to his death, according to Health Day.

Normally, the incubation period for rabies lasts for one to three months. However, it is not unheard of for someone to be infected with rabies without displaying symptoms for longer periods of time, which would have occurred in this case. The man died from the raccoon-type rabies virus, which rarely appears in humans. Only one person has ever died from the raccoon-type rabies virus in the United States.

The organ donor fell ill in 2011 and was admitted to a hospital in Florida before death. Following the death, the organs were sent to transplant recipients in Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Maryland. Organ donations undergo a series of rigorous tests to determine the risk of infectious diseases.

However, doctors did not believe that the donor suffered from rabies, which is why the donor was never tested. Rabies is also very rare in the United States; only one to three people suffer from the illness a year. "[It] is difficult for doctors to confirm results [of a rabies test] in the short window of time they have to keep the organs viable for the recipient," the CDC said in a statement.

Transmission of rabies through organ donation is exceptionally rare, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Boston.com explains that rabies infects the central nervous system, affecting the brain and, if untreated, nearly always results in death. In the beginning, the symptoms can be quite mild and flu-like: fever, headache and weakness. If left untreated, the condition can lead to hallucinations, insomnia and partial paralysis.

Experts recommend seeking medical attention immediately if you are ever bitten by an animal.

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