The pandemic has exacerbated the shortage of organs for donation because surgeons have been concerned about using organs from COVID-19-infected donors. Photo by Sasint/Pixabay
For those waiting during the pandemic for a new kidney or liver, new research is reassuring: Organs from deceased donors who had COVID-19 did not cause infection in recipients and posed no risk to healthcare workers.
In a study that began in September 2021, the Duke University School of Medicine team assessed transplants in which two livers and two kidney/pancreas combinations from four donors who tested positive for COVID-19 were given to four recipients.
One donor died from complications of severe COVID-19 -- including lung clots -- and one died of a brain abscess likely triggered by COVID-19. The other two donors had mild or moderate COVID-19 disease and died from a stroke and a drug overdose.
The donors were assessed by organ type, the duration and severity of COVID-19 illness and whether there were any signs of potentially increased clotting in the donated organ or vessels.
The protocol used by the Duke team also included careful inspection of the organ, and they took into account the urgency of the transplant when evaluating risk.
Over a median follow-up of 46 days after receiving their new organs, none of the recipients were infected with COVID-19 through transplant, and there were no infections in healthcare workers who came into contact with the patients.
The study will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Lisbon, Portugal, which is being held from April 23 to 26. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"While limited, our experience to date supports the use of abdominal organs from COVID-19-positive donors as safe and effective, even those actively infected, or with lung disease caused by COVID-19," study author Dr. Emily Eichenberger said in a meeting news release.
Eichenberger noted that "the outcomes for the recipients appear consistent with expected transplant outcomes," and added that a total of 20 such transplants have now been performed successfully.
However, research on transplanted organs from donors who've had COVID-19 is still in the early stages and further studies are needed from various centers worldwide to confirm these early findings.
The pandemic has exacerbated the shortage of organs for donation because surgeons have been concerned about using organs from COVID-19-infected donors.
Even though the four recipients in this study were unvaccinated, Eichenberger noted, all transplant recipients are now strongly encouraged to be fully vaccinated.
"Being unvaccinated can increase the risk for severe COVID-19 in transplanted patients due to their immunosuppression drugs post-transplant. For that reason, we strongly encourage our patients on the waiting list to get vaccinated. However, being unvaccinated does not take someone off the organ transplant waiting list at our institution at this time," Eichenberger said.
The United Network for Organ Sharing offers patient resources on COVID-19.
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