Rabies encephalomyelitis: Clinical, neuroradiological, and pathological findings in 4 transplant recipients

Elizabeth C. Burton, Dennis K. Burns, Michael J. Opatowsky, Waleed H. El-Feky, Bernard Fischbach, Larry Melton, Edmund Sanchez, Henry Randall, David L. Watkins, Jack Chang, Goran Klintmalm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Background: Three patients received solid organ transplants from a common donor and were subsequently discharged from the hospital following an uneventful hospital course. Within 30 days, all 3 organ recipients returned to the hospital with varying symptoms that progressed to rapid neurological deterioration, coma, and death. Objective: To describe the clinical, neuroradiological, and pathological findings of rabies virus infection in organ transplant recipients infected from a common donor. Design: Case series involving a common donor and 3 organ recipients ascertained through review of clinical course and autopsy findings. A fourth case was determined by review of pending autopsy cases in which death occurred within the same time interval. Portions of postmortem central nervous system and organ tissues were frozen and formalin-fixed. Fluids and tissues were also collected for cultures, serology, and molecular studies. Postmortem fluids and tissues and antemortem fluids and tissues from all 4 transplant recipients and serum and banked lymphocyte or spleen cells from the donors were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further evaluation. Setting: Transplant unit of an urban teaching hospital. Results: Antemortem cerebrospinal fluid analysis for 3 of the 4 recipients was consistent with a viral etiology. Neuroimaging and electroencephalogram studies were suggestive of an infectious encephalitis or a toxic encephalopathy. Initial laboratory testing did not demonstrate an infectious etiology. Postmortem histologic analysis, immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy, and direct fluorescence antibody testing revealed rabies virus infection. Serological testing done postmortem confirmed rabies virus infection in the common donor. Conclusions: These cases demonstrate a risk for transmitting rabies virus infection through solid organ and tissue transplantation, and this diagnosis should be considered in any rapidly progressing neurological disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)873-882
Number of pages10
JournalArchives of neurology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Neurology


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