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Should Ban On Transplants Of HIV-Infected Organs Be Dropped?

HIV viral particles as seen under an electron microscope.
HIV viral particles as seen under an electron microscope.

If you're infected with HIV, you're no longer automatically ruled out for an organ transplant.

But whether you need a new liver, kidney or other body part, the wait can be a long one. Now some doctors from Johns Hopkins say that ending a ban on the use of donor organs from people infected with HIV could help. A lot.

By their estimate, about 500 HIV-positive people in need of replacement livers and kidneys could get them each year if a law dating back to 1984 didn't forbid their use.

Back then, AIDS was still shrouded in a lot of mystery. Since then people with HIV have been able to live long lives by keeping the virus in check. As they age, some need organs because of kidney or liver disease.

And HIV-positive transplant recipients of HIV-positive organs have done pretty well elsewhere.

"If this legal ban were lifted, we could potentially provide organ transplants to every single HIV-infected transplant candidate on the waiting list," Dorry L. Segev, a Hopkins transplant surgeon said in a statement. "Instead of discarding the otherwise healthy organs of HIV-infected people when they die, those organs could be available for HIV-positive candidates."

The figures and assumptions were published online by the American Journal of Transplantation.

The paper notes that there are some concerns that HIV-positive organs could be mistakenly implanted into someone free of HIV. But there are already systems in place to minimize the risk. And transplantation of organs from people with hepatitis C is already allowed.

While selection of donors and care of recipients of HIV-infected organs "will require careful clinical judgment," the paper concludes, "a legal ban on the use of these organs seems unwarranted and likely harmful."

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