N.C. woman identifies rabies-infected kidney donor
RALEIGH, N.C. An Air Force aviation mechanic is being named as the rabies-infected donor whose organs were transplanted into other recipients, including a Maryland man who died, according to a North Carolina woman who is the mother of his 3-year-old child.
Alecia Mercer told the Associated Press that Military and state health officials visited her home in Trenton, N.C., last week and told her that William Edward Small's September 2011 death in Florida had been caused by rabies. At the time of his death, Mercer says she was told that Small died of complications from a stomach virus.
Doctors in Florida didn't test the 20-year-old Small for rabies before he died. A Maryland man who received an infected kidney, allegedly from Small, died late last month, some 18 months later. The type of rabies he contracted through the donation was called "rabies virus-a raccoon type," which is very uncommon in humans. Only one other person has reportedly died from this form, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Small's heart, liver and other kidney went to recipients in Florida, Georgia and Illinois. Each started getting the vaccine this month, and none has had rabies symptoms.
- CDC: Maryland rabies death caused by organ transplant, not animal bite
- Rare rabies death reported in Maryland
All potential organ donations in the U.S. are screened and tested for infections, and interviews are conducted with family members and close contacts to determine if there are any diseases that may be spread. While HIV or hepatitis are commonly tested for, rabies screenings aren't usually performed unless there are suspicious signs.
Mercer said she wasn't surprised to learn that Small had died of rabies, and not a stomach virus, because he liked to hunt and trap animals.
"He did a lot of trapping and hunting and stuff," she said. "He did the trapping, and he didn't care what the animal looked like. He just picked it up."
Small had been in the Air Force for 17 weeks before he died. He was in Florida to train as aviation mechanic.
He visited a clinic at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in August 2011 for abdominal pain and vomiting and was transferred to a civilian hospital four days later, a Defense Department spokeswoman said last week.
The Defense Department confirmed that the donor had seizures and encephalitis -- a brain inflammation that can be caused by rabies -- but those symptoms can also be caused by a variety of bacterial, viral and other more common conditions.
"Rabies is very unusual, and it can look like a lot of different things," Dr. Matthew Kuehnert, director of the CDC's Office of Blood, Organ, and Other Tissue Safety, said. "I personally can't say I would have been able to make the correct diagnosis had I been there, without knowing what I know now."
Mercer and her 3-year-old son hadn't seen Small since December 2010, several months before he joined the military.
Mercer said the state health officials asked if she had visited Small at the hospital, but she had not. The officials didn't suggest that Mercer or her son have any treatments, said Mercer, who is pregnant.
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