Putting the Opioid Crisis In Perspective

In 2017, the US Centers for Disease Control published its estimate of the total number of deaths due to drug overdose in the United States.

It found that 58,525 people died from drug overdoses in the 12 month period ending in July 2016. For the following year, the number climbed to 66,972.

Those are horrifically large numbers. They are so large, in fact, that they total almost 14 percent of the total number of American who die annually due to cigarette smoking.

Or to put it another way, in 2017 as many people died from cigarette smoking every 51 days as died from drug overdoses the entire year.


Death from Rabies Transmitted via Organ Transplant

A Maryland man died in March 2013 from a case of rabies transmitted inadvertently through the kidney transplant he received back in 2011.

The donor had died in 2011 after checking into a health care facility in Florida, and was not diagnosed with rabies. Rabies cases are extremely rare in the United States. From 1995 through 2011 there were only 49 confirmed case of rabies, or an average of less than 3 cases per year.

Because the disease is so rare and the test for rabies takes a relatively long time, organs for donation are not routinely tested for the disease.

The man’s organs went to several recipients in Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Maryland. A Maryland man who received a kidney transplant died from rabies 16 months after the operation. Since the man had no known contact with animals and died from the extremely rare raccoon variant of rabies, the CDC investigated and confirmed that the donor had also been infected with rabies.

This has happened before. There have been several cases around the world where rabies spread via corneal transplant. In 2004, a man in Texas died from what doctors diagnosed as a subarachnoid hemorrhage, but was in fact rabies. Three organ recipients—one who received a liver and two others who each received one of the man’s kidneys—subsequently died from rabies.

The odd thing here is that in the case of the Texas organ donor, each of the organ recipents was admitted to hospital roughly four weeks after the organ transplant with severe symptoms with death following shortly afterward.

But in the case of the Maryland man, the victim didn’t show any rabies symptoms until 16 months after the transplant. As the CDC put it, “Incubation periods exceeding one year are very rare, making this one of the longer rabies incubation periods recorded.”