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Hundreds of transplant patients at risk from killer germ after donor organs contaminatedBacillus cereus bacterium found in the fluid used to transport organs from donors to recipients
Effects of the bug include vomiting, stomach cramps and – in rare cases – deathExperts say there is no choice but to continue using the contaminated solution as there is no alternative
00:02 GMT, 30 March 2012
Hundreds of transplant patients could be at risk of potentially fatal infections after the chemical used to preserve donor organs was contaminated with bacteria.
The liquid used to transport organs, Viaspan, has been found to contain the bacillus cereus bacterium, which causes vomiting, stomach cramps and – on very rare occasions – death.
The solution is primarily used in liver, pancreas and bowel transplants and around 1,100 patients have such operations in Britain a year.
Danger: Transplant patients are at risk of a killer bacteria which is known to have contaminated donor organs
The Government insists the risks are minimal and so far there is no evidence anyone has come to harm as a result of the contamination.
The manufacturer has recalled the solution and is urging hospitals to use alternatives to ensure patients are not put in danger.
But the Government has said it has no choice but to continue using the contaminated solution as there are no others currently available.
It claims that, unless it takes the risk, patients will die waiting for much-needed donor organ transplants.
Last night Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: ‘Our priority is to ensure patients are safe. There is currently no evidence of any problems in patients who have recently had transplants where Viaspan has been used.
‘If we were to recall the product immediately it is clear that patients would suffer and some may die. We are now working urgently to source alternative products.’
Bacillus cereus lives in the soil and often causes food poisoning in people who have eaten uncooked rice. But tests in the last few days have shown that bacteria somehow contaminated the solution when organs were transferred from dead donor patients to the recipients.
Manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb said the contamination happened in the supply-chain of a third-party company based in Austria.
The Government said it has found three potential alternatives – Celsior, HTK and Soltran – and is trying to buy in additional stock to avoid using Viaspan.
Fears: The bacillus cereus bacterium has been discovered in the liquid used to transport organs from donors to patients
Professor Sir Kent Woods, Chief Executive of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, said: ‘We have acted quickly to protect patients and we have alerted transplant centres and surgeons immediately about this contamination and precautionary recall by the manufacturer.
‘We are working closely with the NHS to make alternative products available for transplant operations.’
Lorna Williamson, Medical and Research Director at NHS Blood and Transplant, which oversees transplants, said: ‘NHSBT endorses the decision to continue to use Viaspan until suitable alternative products are available.
‘This is necessary, if the transplant programme is not to be affected by this product recall. For patients suffering from terminal liver disease a transplant may be the only treatment and for many cannot be delayed even for a few days.
‘NHSBT is working with the MHRA and the transplant centres to ensure that the vital transplant programme continues. We are liaising with the Department of Health over supplies of alternative products and are ready to offer transport assistance.’
A spokesman for Bristol-Myers Squibb said it took patient safety extremely seriously and it was ‘investigating the cause of this issue’.