Screen Organ Donors for Ebola, Advises Ad Hoc Committee

With health care providers on heightened alert for patients with Ebola, an HHS committee has issued suggestions for screening organ donors to ensure that they do not harbor the virus. The Ad Hoc Disease Transmission Advisory Committee (DTAC) consists of members from the HHS Organ Procurement and Transportation Network (OPTN) and the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a private, nonprofit organization that contracts with the federal government to manage the nation’s organ transplant system. The DTAC is suggesting that organ transplant centers and organ procurement organizations (OPOs) focus on early recognition and consider certain Ebola risk factors when screening potential donors.

Travel History

The Ebola virus incubation period can last up to 21 days, so it is crucial for transplant centers and OPNs to question organ donors thoroughly, regardless of whether they are experiencing health problems. As of November 25, 2014, widespread Ebola transmission is occurring in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, while Mali and the United States are experiencing initial cases or localized transmission. Nigeria, Senegal, and Spain are considered free of the disease. Transplant centers and OPOs should determine whether potential donors have traveled to any of the countries that are not listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as being free of Ebola within the last 21 days.

Epidemiological Risk Factors

Transplant centers and OPOs should also screen for epidemiological factors. Specifically, they should ask whether potential donors have:

  • had contact with the blood or other bodily fluids or remains of known or suspected Ebola patients;
  • had direct exposure as a health care worker to patients known to have Ebola; or
  • directly handled bats or non-human primates from areas where the disease is endemic.

The DTAC emphasized that the risk of Ebola is “extraordinarily low.” However, it suggested that transplantation should be ruled out where a potential donor has any of the risk factors listed above.