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5 Taiwan patients get HIV-infected organs

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- One of Taiwan's best regarded hospitals said HIV-infected organs were mistakenly transplanted into five patients after a hospital staffer misheard the donor's test results by telephone.

The five are being treated with anti-AIDS drugs, an official at National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei said yesterday. The hospital said on its website the mistake occurred because a transplant staffer believed he heard the English word "non-reactive" on the donor's standard HIV test, while the word "reactive" was actually given. The information was given over the telephone and was not double-checked, as required by standard procedures, the hospital statement said.

The Health Department will look into the mistake and decide on possible penalties for the hospital, department official Shih Chung-liang said. If negligence was found to have caused the blunder, Shih said, the hospital may have to suspend its transplant programs for up to a year, in addition to unspecified fines.

The donor was a 37-year-old man who fell into a coma Aug. 24. His heart, liver, lungs and kidneys were transplanted to five patients the same day. NTUH said it transplanted four organs and the heart transplant was done at another hospital.

The donor's mother, who was not identified, told cable news stations she had not been aware of her son's ailment and felt terrible about the transplants. She said he died after "falling from a high spot," without elaborating.

Yao Ke-wu, who heads the health department of Hsinchu city, where the donor resided, decried the transplants as "appalling negligence." He said the organ receivers, all Taiwanese, are very likely to contract HIV.