A donated organ can save a life. Many a time, several organs harvested from the body of a deceased donor can save several lives. But in a shocking case of an infection carried forward, an organ transplant in the US likely caused the death of two of the recipients, report US Health authorities.
The transplanted lungs may have spread hazardous Legionella bacteria for the first time, according to a recent report published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday.
In July 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) received two reports of laboratory-confirmed cases of legionnaires’ disease in patients who were exposed to the same Philadelphia hospital.
Both these patients had undergone a single lung transplantation from the same donor before the onset of the disease. This donor – a male aged 30-39 years – had died after falling into a river in Pennsylvania in May 2022. He had been declared brain-dead after rigorous attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
Several of his organs were harvested and transplanted into others. But the only ones who developed the deadly bacterial infection were the ones who received the lung transplants.
The initial case of Legionnaires’ disease cropped up in a woman between 70 and 79 years old, who had undergone a right lung transplant in May 2022. Just nine days following the transplant, the patient’s blood work showed increased white blood cell count and acute anaemia, prompting the need for imaging studies.
After a lung specimen was collected in early June, it tested positive for Legionella species.
The second case involved a man between 60 and 69 years old, known as Patient B, who also received a left lung transplant on the same day from the same donor as Patient A. Patient B had other comorbidities and was on ECMO support for breathing and battled kidney issues. Fifteen days after the operation, doctors began antibiotic treatment with doxycycline.
Although the patient initially recovered, his health declined during a long hospital stay, and he died six months after the transplant surgery. Cause: respiratory failure due to a blocked airway.
Three additional individuals received organs from the same donor, but they all tested negative for the bacteria.
The hospital where the transplant surgeries took place tested negative for any traces of legionella.
Health investigators then began to suspect that the bacteria may have originated from the deceased organ donor, given that legionella bacteria can naturally exist in freshwater.
The deceased donor likely became infected with the bacteria after inhaling the water during the drowning incident. The bacteria found in legionnaires disease thrives in warm water, and with the rising temperatures associated with the climate crisis, there have been considerably more favourable conditions for its growth.
In 2022, during an outbreak of legionnaires’ disease in New York City’s Bronx borough, two people who used a spa jacuzzi tub died from legionnaires’ disease fell seriously ill and one died from the legionnaires’ disease.