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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Snake suspected in killer blood donation
Britney with snake
Snakes may harbour unpleasant bugs
A pet snake may have contributed to the death of a woman who died after receiving a tainted blood transfusion.

It is suggested that salmonella bacteria from the snake may have contaminated the blood given by its owner.

Another woman was also taken ill following a transfusion from the same donor - but survived.

Reptiles are well-known carriers of salmonella bacteria, but this is the first time one has been implicated in a death.

The first case, in April 2001, reports the New England Journal of Medicine, involved a 51-year-old woman who received platelets as part of treatment for leukaemia, and immediately fell ill.

Same strain

Blood platelets from the same batch were also given to a 50-year-old woman suffering from severe intestinal bleeding.

The first woman survived the sudden illness, but the other was not so fortunate, dying the same day.

The blood was traced back to a 47-year-old man who owned a boa constrictor.

He had felt fine when he gave blood - although he had suffered a fever a couple of weeks beforehand.

When bacteria from the snake was tested, it proved to be the same strain as that from both victims, and the pet owner.

Although blood donation centres do try to screen out some infections, as many as 1% of platelet products are thought to be contaminated in some way.

This is because even people who feel relatively well when they attend for donations may still be incubating a bacterial or viral infection, or not quite recovered from one.

The doctors who uncovered the link were from the Oklahoma Helath Sciences Center.

Lead researcher Dr Mehrdad Jafari said: "Up to 3% of US households have a pet reptile, and these reptiles may account for as many as 3% to 18% of the estimated 1.4m cases of salmonella infections that occur annually in the US."

See also:

23 Feb 00 | Health
15 Feb 99 | UK
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