COVID-19 and organ donation: is it safe to donate?


TORONTO – Can someone who has died of COVID-19 or suffered from COVID-19 for a long time can donate their organs for a transplant? Can the virus be transmitted through organ donation? How has the pandemic changed the organ donation process? These are just a few of the questions people are asking about organ donation during the pandemic.

“Dawson’s Creek” screenwriter Heidi Ferrer suffered the debilitating effects of long-term COVID for more than a year before committing suicide in May, according to multiple media outlets at the time of her death. This is what happened to her organs afterwards, however, which also worried her husband, according to a New York Times article this week.

Nick Guthe wanted his wife’s body to be donated to science. But as the person who signed his donor card, Ferrer’s organs were harvested and used to save the lives of other people.

She had developed severe, inexplicable foot pain, heart palpitations and digestive problems as a result of her COVID-19 infection. Just weeks before her death, she also developed neurological problems, including tremors and “brain fog”.

It all became too much for Ferrer, but as someone who spent much of his senior year in agony, Guthe feared his wife’s organ might not be safe for recipients.

So what are the experts saying and what are the rules around organ donation?

The regulations are set by provincial organ donation agencies (OPOs), said Dr Deepali Kumar, director of transplant infectious diseases at the Ajmera Transplant Center of the University Health Network in Toronto, one of the largest centers in Toronto. transplant to the country.

In Ontario, for example, patients who have had COVID-19 in the past are accepted.

“In order to ensure that no viruses can be transmitted, we usually like to wait a while before accepting these people as donors… it’s a minimum of 21 days, but more is better,” Kumar, who also sits on the board of directors of the American Society of Transplantation and is its president-elect, CTV News Toronto said.

“Around this time people have negative swabs. “

There is evidence that pieces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be found in different organs, but there is no indication that they are able to multiply, she explained. She pointed to the United States, where kidneys, livers and sometimes hearts from “COVID positive” donors are accepted, and no transmission of the virus has resulted from these donations.

“Even if your COVID swab is positive and you’re about a month away from your infection, you can probably donate abdominal organs, but not your lungs. “

Technically, anyone can be a potential donor, regardless of their health, according to the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) website.

“Even people with serious illnesses can sometimes be donors. All potential donors are assessed on an individual, medical, case-by-case basis, ”says the program.

Ontario’s organ and tissue donor registration form, for example, does not require registrants to disclose their health, even though there are different types of active infections that may prevent a person to be a donor, like people with HIV. Donors with resolved or dormant infections, such as hepatitis B, can donate.

For those concerned about the lengthy COVID and organ donation, Kumar explained that experts believe it is an immune phenomenon wreaking havoc on the body, not the virus itself.

“The virus itself is probably long gone, but it kind of leaves that lasting signature of boosting your immune system. So people have all kinds of symptoms, ”Kumar explained.


However, the donation process is not static and Kumar noted that selection procedures are constantly evaluated.

“When COVID first appeared, the first thing we did was assess our COVID test and make sure we were doing transplants safely. So definitely… keep abreast of anything new and make sure our criteria are up to date.

With more than 4,400 Canadians on the waiting list for a life-saving transplant, every potential donation counts, especially when the number of actual organ donations is far less than needed, according to CBS. Hundreds of Canadians die each year while waiting for a game, with just 32 percent of Canadians stating their intention to donate, even though 90 percent support the practice.

“Organ transplantation and organ donation present a risk-benefit,” said Kumar.

During the pandemic, extensive testing is done on donors to make sure they are free from infection before accepting organs.

“The bottom line is for the general public to know that our organ stores are very safe and as data emerges we are constantly evaluating the safety of the organ supply and making sure we have all the controls in place to donors … nothing is 100%, but we try to get as close as possible to it. “

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