A newly-identified virus may be responsible for the deaths of three Victorians who received organs from the same donor in December.
Victoria's Acting Chief Health Officer Dr John Carnie said there was no evidence the virus represented a public health risk and its presence in these Victorian recipients is thought to be a world-first occurrence.
"Scientists working on both sides of the world have collaborated to find a likely cause of the deaths and had discovered a previously unknown virus," Dr Carnie said.
"The discovery of this new virus is of national and international significance. Much more work is needed to fully understand the nature and behaviour of this virus," Dr Carnie said.
"Using cutting edge molecular techniques scientists at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne and the Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory at Columbia University in New York have collaborated to find the new, and yet to be named, virus in patient samples and sequence its genes.
"The new virus is related to lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) which has been attributed with causing death in two small clusters of organ transplant patients in 2006 in the USA.
"Tissue samples kept from the three recipients who died after their transplants all have evidence of having been infected with this new virus.
"The virus has been detected in multiple samples from all three patients using molecular tests designed from the gene sequence data and has been cultured under contained conditions. Further studies to characterize the virus are underway in both Victoria and the USA," Dr Carnie said.
Dr Carnie said the kidneys and liver of the donor were transplanted in early December last year. All three recipients died in early January this year. Two of the recipients were treated at the Austin Hospital, one undergoing a liver transplant and the other a kidney transplant. The third patient received a kidney transplant at Royal Melbourne Hospital.
"Initial investigations and testing was unable to determine any common link between the donor and the three recipients. These findings are now being evaluated by virologists and public health experts.
Dr Carnie said Australia has one of the best success rates for organ transplants in the world.
"The survival rate for heart and liver transplant patients is 90 per cent at one year and 85 per cent at five years.
"The survival rate for kidney transplant recipients is 90 per cent at one year and 85 – 90 per cent at five years.
"For lung transplant recipients, the survival rate is 89 per cent at one year and 75 per cent at five years. Since 1965, more than 30,000 Australians have received organ or tissue transplants," Dr Carnie said.