While serious infections can be transmitted from donated organs, the risk of passing Ebola virus disease from an organ donor to a recipient is extremely small, researchers said.

Experts explained how simple assessments of donors can help ensure that the organ supply is safe, while having little impact on the donor pool.

Despite screening all organ donors for infection, on rare occasions an organ donor will transmit an unexpected infection to a recipient, researchers said.

Because cases of Ebola virus disease have occurred in the US recently, clinicians want to make sure that appropriate steps are taken to reduce the already low risk that Ebola virus could be unknowingly transmitted from donor to recipient.

Experts note that simple screening questions, many of which are already asked, can be used to assess if donors have risk for harbouring Ebola virus disease. Also, investing in new laboratory-based testing is likely not practical or effective.

"Thousands of people die in the US each year waiting for an organ transplant, and we think it is very important not to overreact to the very low risk that a potential donor might have the Ebola virus, and, as a consequence, unnecessarily discard potentially life-saving organs," said lead author Daniel Kaul, director of the transplant infectious disease division at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Kaul and his colleagues suggest that individuals who travelled in the past three weeks to the countries in Africa where Ebola virus is active, as well as health care workers and others in the US who were recently exposed to someone infected with Ebola virus, should not donate organs.
While it is difficult to know how long a person should be kept from donating after exposure to the Ebola virus, they feel that a 21-day exclusion period is reasonable.
"We think that after the 21-day period, doctors taking care of the patients involved could consider using those organs after talking with the potential recipients if that organ might be the recipient's best chance to survive," said Kaul. The study was published in the American Journal of Transplantation.

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