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Home Eurosurveillance Weekly Release  2005: Volume 10/ Issue 8 Article 6
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Eurosurveillance, Volume 10, Issue 8, 24 February 2005

Citation style for this article: Hellenbrand W, Meyer C, Rasch G, Steffens I, Ammon A. E-alert 18 February: Cases of rabies in Germany following organ transplantation. Euro Surveill. 2005;10(8):pii=2917. Available online:

E-alert 18 February: Cases of rabies in Germany following organ transplantation

Wiebke Hellenbrand (, Christiane Meyer, Gernot Rasch, Ines Steffens and Andrea Ammon, Robert Koch-Institut, Berlin, Germany

On 16 February 2005, the Deutsche Stiftung Organtransplantation (German Foundation for Organ Transplantation, announced possible rabies cases in three of six patients who received organs from a donor who died in late December 2004 [1].These three patients, who received lung, kidney and kidney/pancreas transplants following the donor’s death, are in a critical condition. The remaining three organ recipients (two corneal, one liver) have not shown any signs of rabies.

The organ donor suffered cardiac arrest in a hospital, where she was resuscitated several times. Her circulatory system was stabilised, but prolonged hypoxemia led to brain death. There were no clinical indications that the donor patient was infected with rabies.

The Bernhard-Nocht-Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg ( and the Konsiliarlabor for Rabies at the University Clinic in Essen’s Institute of Virology confirmed the diagnosis of rabies in the donor and two of the recipients on 16 and 17 February, 2005 [2]. As a precaution, all contacts of the infected donor and the infected patients in Germany have received rabies immunoglobulin and started a course of rabies vaccination. A warning was posted on the European Early Warning and Response System on 18 February.

The risk of rabies infection in Germany is extremely low. The last two deaths due to rabies in Germany occurred in 1996 and 2004 [3,4]. In both cases, the infection was acquired abroad, through an animal bite.

Transmission of the rabies virus to humans usually occurs through the bite of an infected animal, but can also occur through direct contact of mucous membranes or fresh breaks in the skin with infectious material (e.g. saliva, neural tissue, cerebrospinal fluid). Person-to-person transmission has been observed only in rare isolated cases after transplantation. Rabies in transplant recipients was last reported in 2004 in the United States [5,6]. Based on a risk analysis (, 174 contacts associated with these cases received post-exposure prophylaxis with simultaneous passive immunisation with rabies immunoglobulin and active immunisation with rabies vaccine.

As a result of this situation, in consultation with the Konsiliarlabor for Rabies and the Bernhard-Nocht-Institute, the Robert Koch-Institut has defined indications for immunisation after contact with a person suspected of or confirmed as having rabies. These are available at

This article was first published as an e-alert in Eurosurveillance on 18 February 2005, and was originally available at

  1. Tollwut: Zu aktuellen Erkrankungen nach Organtransplantation. Epidemiologisches Bulletin 2005; (7):51-52. (
  2. Bernhard-Nocht-Institut. Informationen zu Tollwut und Tollwut-Diagnostik. Press release, 17 February 2005. (
  3. Tollwut: Zu einem importierten Erkrankungsfall. Epidemiologisches Bulletin 2004; (42): 362-363. (
  4. Summer R, Ross S, Kiehl W. Imported case of rabies in Germany from India. Eurosurveillance Weekly 2004; 8(46): 11/11/2004 (
  5. CDC. Update: Investigation of Rabies Infections in Organ Donor and Transplant Recipients --- Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, 2004. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2004; 53(Dispatch);1 (
  6. CDC. Investigation of rabies infections in organ donor and transplant recipients---Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, 2004. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2004; 53(26): 586-589. (

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