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Man dies after getting rabies-infected kidney

A Maryland man died from a transplanted, rabies-infected kidney from a donor who wasn’t known to have the disease, and the rare death has prompted authorities to treat three others who got organs from the same donor, federal health officials said Friday.

The Maryland man, who died last month, received the kidney more than a year ago. The recipients of the donor’s heart, liver and other kidney are getting anti-rabies shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. Those patients live in Florida, Georgia and Illinois, the CDC said.

The donor, a 20-year-old North Carolina man, died in 2011 in Florida, where he was training to become an Air Force aviation mechanic, the Defense Department said.

The three other recipients have a strong chance of surviving since they haven’t shown symptoms of the disease, said a rabies expert who successfully treated a teenage girl with rabies in 2004.

“They’re getting a really excellent vaccine. This is the best we’ve got,” said Dr. Rodney Willoughby of Milwaukee.

Public and military health officials said they’re trying to identify people in all five states who were in close contact with the donor or the recipients. Those people might also need treatment, the CDC said. The CDC refused to disclose the identities of the donor and recipients.

The CDC said there has been just one other reported instance of rabies transmission by transplanted solid organs, a 2004 case in which all four recipients died after receiving tissue from an infected donor. There have been at least eight instances of rabies transmission through transplanted corneas, CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said.

“Human rabies is very rare in the United States, and so, of course, when we’re talking about organ transplantation, very, very rare,” she said. Rabies is diagnosed as the cause of just one to three deaths per year in the United States, she said.

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