The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed that the patient who recently died of rabies in Maryland contracted the infection through organ transplantation. Confirmation of the infection and its source came from CDC laboratory testing. This is the state's first case of human rabies since 1976.
CDC laboratories tested samples from both the donor and the recipient, and test results showed that the donor died of rabies. Preliminary analysis indicates that the recipient and the donor had the same type of rabies virus. The organ transplantation occurred more than a year before the recipient developed symptoms and died. CDC is working with public health officials and healthcare facilities to investigate how the donor may have contracted rabies, assess and treat all surviving recipients of donor organs, and identify other people exposed to the donor who might also need rabies post-exposure treatment. For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/s0315_rabies_organs.html.
The type of rabies virus found in both the donor and recipient was of raccoon origin; it can infect not only raccoons, but also other wild and domestic animals. In the United States, since testing by strain has been available, only one person other than the Maryland patient and the organ donor is known to have died from this strain of rabies virus. How the donor may have gotten rabies is currently under investigation.
Human rabies is prevented by administration of rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin. Preventive treatment is only recommended for people with specific types of exposure to the saliva, tears, respiratory secretions, or to fluid from the nervous system of an infected person. Over the past 10 years in the U.S., an average of less than five human rabies cases have been diagnosed each year. Animals found to be infected with the virus include raccoons, foxes, skunks, bats and other wild animals. Unvaccinated dogs and cats can also become infected.
Maryland law requires all dogs, cats, and ferrets to be vaccinated against rabies virus. Last year, 320 animals with rabies were detected in Maryland. Rabies can be prevented by reporting all animal bites, vaccinating your pets, and enjoying wildlife from a distance.