A Michigan woman contracted COVID-19 and died last fall after she got a double-lung transplant from a donor who turned out to have the virus, according to a study.
The incident may be the first proven case in the U.S. in which the coronavirus was transmitted through an organ transplant, researchers say in a report published by the American Journal of Transplantation.
“We would absolutely not have used the lungs if we’d had a positive COVID test,” Dr. Daniel Kaul, director of the Transplant Infectious Disease Service at the University of Michigan Medical School and one of the co-authors of the study, told Kaiser Health News.
All the screening that we normally do and are able to do, we did,” Kaul added. The donor was a woman from the Upper Midwest who died after suffering from a severe brain injury in a car accident.
The recipient had chronic obstructive lung disease and was operated on at University Hospital in Ann Arbor.
Nose and throat samples collected from the donor and the recipient had tested negative for COVID-19.
However, three days after the surgery, the woman developed a high fever, low blood pressure, heavy breathing and a lung infection, according to researchers.
Doctors decided to test for COVID-19 after the woman went into septic shock. Fluids taken from the lungs were also tested and the results were positive.
“History obtained from [the donor’s] family revealed no history of travel or any recent fever, cough, headache, or diarrhea,” the study says.
“It is unknown if the donor had any recent exposures to persons known or suspected to be infected with SARS-CoV-2.”
Four days after the operation, a surgeon who had handled the donor’s lungs also tested positive for the bug, but later recovered.
Meanwhile, the transplant recipient deteriorated quickly. She died 61 days after the surgery.
Kaul concluded that the Michigan case proves there needs to be more extensive sampling of organs before transplant surgery, especially in regions where there are more cases of COVID-19.