Transmission of rabies through solid organ transplantation: a notable problem in China

BMC Infect Dis. 2018 Jun 14;18(1):273. doi: 10.1186/s12879-018-3112-y.


Background: Due to the increasing number of DCD transplantations since 2015, the transmission of rabies through solid organ transplantation has become a notable problem in China and has attracted the attention of the public.

Case presentation: From 2015 to 2017, four solid organ recipients in our centre were successively diagnosed with rabies that was considered to have been transmitted from two donors who died due to viral encephalitis of unknown cause and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. The incubation periods were 44, 48, 158 and 303 days. The four patients had neurological symptoms associated with rabies and died. The survival times were 44, 34, 8 and 6 days. Another kidney transplant recipient received timely post-exposure prophylaxis and has remained asymptomatic.

Conclusions: Organs should be discarded whenever rabies is confirmed or suspected, especially in cases diagnosed as encephalitis of unknown cause. It is important to establish a supervisory system to manage donor-derived infectious diseases. When rabies-infected donor organs are inadvertently transplanted, the recipients must receive post-exposure prophylaxis in a timely manner, which may be the only possible effective method to prevent the transmission of rabies.

Keywords: Donor; Encephalitis; Organ transplant; Rabies; Transmission.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Encephalitis, Viral / diagnosis*
  • Encephalitis, Viral / etiology
  • Encephalitis, Viral / mortality
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Transplantation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Transplantation*
  • Post-Exposure Prophylaxis
  • RNA, Viral / urine
  • Rabies / diagnosis*
  • Rabies / mortality
  • Rabies / transmission
  • Rabies virus / genetics
  • Rabies virus / isolation & purification
  • Saliva / virology
  • Sputum / virology
  • Tissue Donors


  • RNA, Viral