Can You Be an Organ Donor If You Have Hepatitis?

People with Hepatitis Donate Hundreds of Organs Every Year

organ donor card for someone with hepatitis
Can you be an organ donor if you have hepatitis?. Lumina Imaging/ GettyImages

Can you be an organ donor if you have hepatitis? Yes, you can! Let's look at who can receive a donated organ from a person with hepatitis, what organs can be donated, and what you should know about checking the box next to organ donor next time you renew your drivers license.

People with Hepatitis as Organ Donors

Some people think that having hepatitis means that they can't be an organ donor. This is one of the myths about hepatitis.

People can still be an organ donor and have acute or even chronic hepatitis B or C. In fact, people who are positive for hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C virus donate more than 1,000 organs for transplant each year.

According to the website of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a division of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, having a medical condition at your time of death doesn't necessarily rule out being an organ donor: "Doctors will evaluate the condition of your organs when the time arises. The transplant team's decision will be based on a combination of factors such as your specific illness and your physical condition to determine which organs and tissues can be donated."

There are, however, diseases that will prevent organ donation. Examples include being HIV positive, having active cancer or having a systemic (body-wide) infection (known as sepsis.)

Restrictions on Organ Donation with Hepatitis - Recipients with Hepatitis

People with hepatitis C can only donate organs to others who also have hepatitis, but whose organs are in worse shape. Yet given the large number of people with hepatitis, this leaves many organ recipients who could benefit. In contrast, organs from those who have hepatitis should not be transplanted to someone who is hepatitis negative.

Unfortunately, this ability to donate between hepatitis positive donors and recipients is often overlooked. A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins published in 2010 found that more than half of donor kidneys from people with hepatitis C are needlessly thrown away in the U.S. instead of being supplied to hepatitis C-positive patients with kidney failure.

These organs can help get hepatitis C patients with kidney failure off dialysis sooner than waiting for an infection-free kidney, which entails a wait which is a year longer on average. One year on dialysis increases the risk of death by 10 to 15 percent. In contrast, the increased risk in mortality due to receiving an infected kidney versus one which is not infected increases the death rate by only one percent at one year out and two percent at three years out.

At the time of the study a third of transplant centers in the U.S. did not use hepatitis C positive kidneys for those who had hepatitis C.

This study considered people with hepatitis C infection, but it appears that donations from hepatitis B donors to hepatitis B recipients results in excellent short term outcomes as well.

How Common is Hepatitis in Donors and Recipients?

Worldwide, it's thought that two to three percent of the population is positive for hepatitis B or C.

Among normal risk donors, the incidence of hepatitis is 3.4 percent, with the number rising to over 18 percent of high risk donors. Among donor recipients, the incidence of hepatitis infection ranges from 1.8 up to 8 percent.

What Organs Can be Donated

We have been talking about kidneys, but many people are unaware of the number of organs which can be donated. In addition to the kidneys, the list includes the liver, heart, lungs, pancreas, intestines, bones, corneas, tendons, and certain veins.

Statistics about Organ Donation

Organ donation is a tremendous act of kindness, and there is a great need for organ donors of all ages.

In fact, there is no age limit. Even if your liver isn't in good enough shape for donation, perhaps other organs and tissues could be used by someone else.

Here are a few stats about organ donation in the U.S., from HRSA:

  • More than 119,000 people are waiting for an organ.
  • In 2015, 30,970 people received an organ transplant. However, an average of 22 people die each day waiting for transplants that can't take place because of the shortage of donated organs.
  • Though 95 percent of the population supports organ transplantation, only 48 percent are signed up to be organ donors.
  • While the waiting list for transplants increased greatly between 1993 and 2015, the number of people who are registered to be donors and the number of transplants performed has risen much less.

How to Become an Organ Donor 

To become an organ donor, you can sign up when you renew your driver's license. Or, you can register online with your state's donor registry. It's also important to talk to your loved ones about your wishes and your choice to donate your organs if possible, since they may be asked about donation at a time when it is difficult for them to make a decision. If you are not yet a donor, check out these answers to common questions asked about organ donation.

Sources:

John’s Hopkins Medicine. Donor Kidneys From Hepatitis C Patients Needlessly Denied To Patients With That Infection. 03/31/10. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/donor_kidneys_from_hepatitis_c_patients_needlessly_denied_to_patients_with_that_infection_

Muche, M., and S. Baid-Agrawal. Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Kidney Donors. UpToDate. Updated 02/24/16.

Muche, M., and S. Baid-Agrawal. Hepatitis C Infection in Kidney Transplant Candidates and Recipients. UpToDate Updated 04/25/16.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Organ Donation Statistics. Published 03/13/15. https://www.organdonor.gov/statistics-stories/statistics.html

Veroux, M., Ardita, V., Corona, D. et al. Kidney Transplantation From Donors with Hepatitis B. Medical Science Monitor. 2016. 22:1427-34.

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