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Transplant recipients often not aware infection risks

If you have a medical condition serious enough to require an organ transplant, the odds are good you aren't thinking about the risks anymore -- because the benefit of survival outweighs everything.

However, it's possible that something can go so wrong with the organ transplant that you're left in worse shape than you started. There are a number of possible hazards transplant recipients face that they may not be thinking about when they're finally told that an organ is available for them:

  • An organ is taken from the wrong person by mistake.
  • The proper consent isn't received from the donor or the donor's family.
  • An error is made either in surgery or after surgery that leaves the recipient likely to acquire an infection or otherwise reject the organ.
  • A mistake is made when typing the organ for donation and it isn't compatible in the first place.
  • The organ is diseased or carries a fungal, viral or bacterial infection that is transmitted to the recipient.

In particular, the last issue -- ending up with a fungal, viral or bacterial disease due to the transplanted organ -- is something that happens more often than people probably realize.

Infections derived from donors are generally broken down into two classifications: anticipated and unanticipated.

Anticipated infections are those that have been seen regularly enough that centers know the risks and know what steps to take to protect recipients.

Unanticipated infections become more complicated to deal with because they include multiple issues:

  • A small likelihood of risk from a particular donor -- for example, HIV in someone who wasn't believed to have ever been sexually active.
  • Not enough time to run tests for certain infections before the transplant is performed.
  • Test results that are missed until after the transplant is performed.

For example, one of the most common infections seen is called CMV, or cytomegalovirus -- which is fairly harmless to healthy individuals but potentially fatal to those with severe health issues. However, CMV is very common, so the recipient isn't at risk if he or she already has the virus. However, surgeons don't know what risk they're putting the patient in unless they test both the donor and the recipient in advance.

If you suspect that a surgical mistake during your organ transplant left you with an infection that could have been prevented, check into your legal options as soon as possible.

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