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BALTIMORE – Doctors now say a pig’s heart that was transplanted into a patient in a groundbreaking surgery may have been infected with a virus.

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David Bennett died approximately two months after the eight-hour surgery to implant the pig heart at the University of Maryland Medical Center, as we reported in March. At the time, doctors had no specific cause of death, saying only that Bennett’s health began to decline days before his death.

Transplant specialists now say that Bennett’s heart was infected by porcine cytomegalovirus, a preventable infection, MIT Technology Review reported. Specialists who participated in a webinar April 20 discussing the case said they believe the infection may have contributed to Bennett’s death.

University officials said that the pig, which was genetically modified so that its organs could be used for human transplantation, had been screened for the virus, but that tests only pick up active infections, The New York Times reported. A latent infection could have slipped by the scans.

“It was surprising. That pig is supposed to be clean of all pig pathogens, and this is a significant one,” Mike Curtis, CEO eGenesis, a competing company breeding pigs for transplant, told MIT Technology Review. “Without the virus, would Mr. Bennett have lived? We don’t know, but the infection didn’t help. It likely contributed to the failure.”

Dr. Bartley Griffith, the lead surgeon on the case, said that a test had detected the virus in Bennett’s body 20 days after the transplant, but the levels were so low that it was initially believed to be a lab error, The New York Times reported.

“So we started thinking that the virus that showed up very early at day 20 as just a twinkle started to grow in time, and it may have been the actor — it could have been the actor — that set this all off,” Dr. Griffith said, The New York Times reported.

Bennett had been given the pig heart after receiving special permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the one-off transplant, MIT Technology Review reported. Bennett was near-death from heart failure and had been rejected from multiple waiting lists for a human heart.