Agency Confirms West Nile Virus Transmitted Through Transfusions

  1. Another interesting article. Forgive me if it is a duplicate elsewhere:

    Agency Confirms West Nile Virus Transmitted Through Transfusions (10/29/2002 10:00:00 AM)


    ORLANDO, Fla. - Federal officials confirmed Monday for the first time that West Nile can be transmitted through blood transfusions, underscoring the need for a test to screen donated blood for the potentially deadly virus.

    Experimental tests may be ready as early as next summer, but in the meantime, the Food and Drug Administration is urging blood banks to question donors more thoroughly and quickly remove suspected blood from their shelves.

    The topic of West Nile drew a large crowd Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Blood Banks, being held this week in Orlando.

    "We are operating at a high level of alert and concern in an evolving situation," said Dr. Jay Epstein from the office of blood research and review within the FDA.

    To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has nailed down blood transfusions as the cause of six cases of West Nile encephalitis. Another 27 potential cases remain under investigation. West Nile is a mosquito-borne disease that usually is passed to humans through bites from infected insects. Birds, horses and other animals also are susceptible, and the United States is in the worst outbreak of the disease since it first appeared here in 1999.

    More than 3,300 human infections have been documented and 188 people have died from West Nile this year. There have been 16 illnesses in Florida, including one in a 7-year-old from Alachua County who is among the suspected blood-transfusion cases.

    But officials said it's likely as many as 300,000 people have contracted the virus across the country. Because most don't show any symptoms, health officials only become aware of cases that lead to severe problems such as encephalitis, a sometimes-fatal brain infection.

    Even so, officials say the 4.5 million Americans who get blood transfusions every year should not be overly concerned. They think the risk of getting West Nile through tainted blood remains low.

    "Obviously people who need a blood transfusion have other things to be worried about," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, a West Nile expert with the CDC in Fort Collins, Colo. "The benefits of getting a blood transfusion outweigh the risks."

    The lack of outward signs is the biggest problem in weeding out potentially infected donors, who would have no reason to suspect they are ill.

    Compared with other viruses, West Nile exists at very low levels in the blood, Epstein said. Any test to screen for the virus would have to be highly sensitive to pick up the virus.

    He said the FDA is inviting the scientific community to a meeting in early November to discuss the challenges and possibilities for developing such a test.

    Existing tests are not applicable to everyday screening in blood banks, officials said, because they are too time-consuming and costly.

    "We're talking about being able to test thousands of specimens on any given day quickly and accurately," said Dr. Mary Chamberland, assistant director for blood safety at the CDC in Atlanta.

    When health officials found that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, could be transmitted through blood transfusions in the early1980s, it took time to get a test ready for widespread use. All donated blood has been screened for HIV since 1985.

    Despite the difficulties, blood bank officials are confident a test can be developed.

    "There's a lot of midnight oil being burned in labs across the country already working on this problem," said Mike Pratt, executive vice president of technical services at Central Florida Blood Bank, which provides blood to area hospitals and health care facilities.

    To deal with the problems now, the FDA has released new recommendations to blood banks that emphasize the need to question donors about recent symptoms that could indicate exposure to West Nile. These include fever, chills, headache or rashes.

    Blood banks also are urging donors to contact them if any of these symptoms develop after they give blood, because people may have the virus up to two weeks before showing any signs of it.

    Nevertheless, the risk of West Nile in the blood supply will rise and fall with outbreaks of the disease. When mosquito populations drop in cooler weather, so will the likelihood of infected donors.

    "The incidence of infection is going to vary from year to year and location to location," Petersen said. "It's just something that is very hard to predict."

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    Last edit by nightingale on Oct 30, '02
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  2. 2 Comments

  3. by   sjoe
    That conclusion was NOT the result of rocket science. It couldn't be more obvious.
  4. by   nightingale
    Originally posted by sjoe
    That conclusion was NOT the result of rocket science. It couldn't be more obvious.
    sjoe.. and the reason for your comment is?

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