Transplant organ fluid 'contaminated'

An organ cooler in an operating room during a transplant
Image caption Viaspan is used to keep organs fresh while they are moved

The solution used to preserve some donor organs could be contaminated with bacteria, the government says.

Viaspan preserves the liver, pancreas and bowel and is often used when organs are transported in the UK.

Tests have found bacteria, Bacillus cereus, in the solution that is used to test the sterility of viaspan.

It is now being investigated if viaspan is contaminated too, but doctors are still being advised to continue using it until alternatives can be found.

Patients can be prescribed an antibiotic in case the bacteria, which causes diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps, is present.

No transplant centres have reported any adverse effects linked to possible contamination of viaspan, which is manufactured by Bristol Myers-Squibb.

Production of viaspan has now been stopped and the manufacturer has issued a worldwide recall.

'Gold standard'

But Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said it would continue to be used in the UK until an alternative solution could be found.

She 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."

The batches involved may go back to a manufacturing date of July 2011, which could mean potentially hundreds of people being affected.

There are about 800 liver, 250 pancreas and 30 to 40 bowel transplants in the UK each year.

Viaspan is used to preserve organs after removal from the donor before going into the recipient.

It is used primarily on abdominal organs such as the liver, pancreas and bowel for which it is considered the gold standard.

Other solutions are used for different organs.

The government and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are now working to find alternative liquids for abdominal organs.

Two solutions have been identified, but neither are officially authorised for use.

However, the MHRA has given the green light for both products for humanitarian use and are now trying to get hold of stocks.

A statement from Bristol-Myers Squibb said the firm took its responsibility for patient safety "extremely seriously".

"We are urgently investigating the cause of this issue.

"BMS has notified all health authorities in countries where the product is distributed and will provide further updates as the investigation progresses."

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