PetSmart sued over infected hamster blamed in 3 deaths

BOSTON (AP) -- A woman whose husband died after receiving a liver transplant infected with a rodent virus is suing PetSmart Inc., claiming the chain should have warned customers that hamsters can carry the virus.

The federal lawsuit alleges Thomas Magee, 54, and two other organ recipients died after transplants from a woman who had contracted a virus from a hamster she bought at a PetSmart store in Warwick, R.I.

Bruce Richardson, a spokesman for the Phoenix-based chain, would not comment on the lawsuit Wednesday but said the virus is rare.

"It's not a common disease in pets. It's not something that's tested routinely by us or others," Richardson said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court last week, said a pathology report on Magee's autopsy lists the cause of death as lymphocytic choriomeningitis, a viral infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

The virus, which is found in house mice, hamsters and other rodents, usually causes only flu-like symptoms in humans, but can be serious and even fatal in people with compromised immune systems.

In May 2005, the Rhode Island Health Department confirmed that three people died after receiving organs that were infected with the rodent virus: Magee, a double-lung recipient from Massachusetts and a kidney transplant recipient from Rhode Island.

In her lawsuit, Nancy Magee says PetSmart had a duty to warn its customers that hamsters could carry the virus and that people with weakened immune systems could die from it.

Magee, who sued on behalf of herself and the couple's three children, declined to comment when reached at her home. She referred questions to her attorney, Richard Bickelman, who did not return a call Wednesday.

Thomas Magee had a liver transplant at Massachusetts General Hospital on April 10, 2005. The surgery was successful, and doctors told Nancy Magee her husband would be discharged about six days later.

But the hospital postponed Magee's release after he developed a fever and high blood pressure. On May 5, Nancy Magee was told that her husband had a virus that was causing his fever and that he would need another liver and kidney transplant as a result, according to the lawsuit. Two days later, Thomas Magee died.


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