Two people saved by lung transplants from donor who drowned develop deadly water-borne disease

DOCTORS were shocked to discover two people developed deadly water-borne Legionnaires’ disease after receiving lung transplants.

In the first case of its kind, medics said it’s likely the bug emerged from the donated lungs themselves, which came from a man who drowned in fresh water.

Two people developed Legionnaires' disease after receiving lung transplants


Two people developed Legionnaires’ disease after receiving lung transplantsCredit: Alamy

Legionnaires’ is a severe form of pneumonia caused by inhaling the bacteria in small droplets of water or accidentally swallowing water containing Legionella.

The bacteria which causes the infection is found naturally in freshwater but typically grow best in warm water and in warm to hot temperature.

In a report, published by the Centre for Disease Control, researchers said the lungs of a US man in his 30s, who fell into a river and was underwater for more than five minutes, were donated.

His organs were removed seven days after his death, and given to a woman in her 70s and a man in his 60s at the same hospital, both of whom were unnamed.

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No one suspected that the lungs had been exposed to Legionella, so were not tested.

Nine days after the transplant, the woman developed anaemia (a lack of iron) and a high white blood cell count, a sign of infection of inflammation.

Further testing revealed she had Legionnaires’. She was treated with antibiotics and recovered, the report said.

The second patient, who tested positive for a different strain of Legionella, suffered several complications after his transplant surgery, and died six months later from respiratory failure, it added.

Experts are racing to find the source of the infection, with the hospital involved testing water systems and cooling towers for the bug.

No other cases of the infection have been reported at the hospital since.

“Although laboratory testing did not confirm the source of recipient infections, available data suggest that the most likely source was the donor lungs,” the authors wrote in the report.

“This cluster highlights the need for increased clinical awareness of possible infection with Legionella in recipients of lungs from donors who drowned in freshwater before organ recovery,” they added.

Legionella is not just lurking in freshwater sources.

The NHS say it can also be found in air conditioning systems, humidifiers, spa pools, hot tubs as well as taps and showers that are not used often.

And it’s especially a issue in warmer climates.

What are the symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease?

According to the NHS symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include:

  • A cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • A high temperature
  • Flu-like symptoms

You might need to go to the hospital if you’re diagnosed with the bug.

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You should definitely call NHS 111 if you can’t breathe properly, have chest pain or feel like you have severe flu.

At home, you can reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease by removing any build-up around shower heads because this can trap water, says Asthma and Lung UK.


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