CDC Investigates HIV, Hepatitis Exposures At Arizona Organ Center

Government health officials are investigating the the potential improper handling of cadavors donated for research, following reports of bodies at an Arizona organ donation center that are infected with blood borne pathogens, including hepatitis and HIV. 

The investigation was launched by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after the Maricopa County Department of Public Health warned 25 former and current employees of the Biological Resource Center in Phoenix that they should be tested for disease as a result of exposure to infected cadavers.

The CDC investigation included testing for infection of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

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Workers at the human non-transplant center prepared cadavers donated to the facility for research, surgical teaching and medical study purposes. The facility processes thousands of bodies each year.

A joint FBI-Arizona Attorney General’s Office raid was conducted on the center in January, resulting in a cross-country criminal investigation. Federal officials plan to determine whether the center, and others in Michigan and Nevada facing similar investigations, handled the donated bodies properly and screened for infectious diseases.

Cadaver Business Growing, Unregulated

Businesses like this have flourished into lucrative, but highly unregulated, businesses in Arizona and across the country. These businesses have grown rapidly across the country with little federal oversight.

There are at least 10 facilities of this type in Arizona alone, and politicians in the state are calling for tighter regulations of the industry.

The CDC is in the process of informing exposed workers of the potential infection. Investigators speculate many procedures required for cadaver preparation before study may have not been followed. Improper screening of communicable disease may also not have been done.

Cadavers are often used fresh, frozen or chemically preserved by Universities and other medical study agencies to perfect surgical technique, conduct research or study wounds.

The American Association of Tissue Banks developed policies for non-transplant facilities to follow, including use of appropriate protective equipment, exclusion criteria for donor material, environmental controls and safe work practices to prevent transmission of infectious agents during handling of the bodies.

Workers are also required to have a hepatitis B vaccination if working with cadavers. The investigations focus on whether these procedures were followed.

Blood borne pathogens can be transmitted when blood or other infectious materials contact mucous membranes, like the eyes and mouth or broken skin through a wound or needle stick.

Workers at the center were offered free testing and counseling regarding infectious diseases.

End users of cadavers and body parts used for medical research and training are thought to be at a much lower risk of infection because of the reduced infectivity of organisms over time.

However, in some cases pathogens can still remain active following death and may transmit disease even if tested negative.

The investigation into the non-transplant centers is unrelated to any transplants of organs or tissues in humans.

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