Local blood center to begin testing donations for Zika

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The Community Blood Center in Dayton said Friday it will comply with the government’s new guidelines calling for all U.S. blood banks to start screening for mosquito-borne Zika virus.

The new guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are intended to protect the nation’s blood supply from the virus at a the time when active Zika transmission in Florida and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico have raised concerns about its spread to other states.

“There is still much uncertainty regarding the nature and extent of Zika virus transmission,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “At this time, the recommendation for testing the entire blood supply will help ensure that safe blood is available for all individuals who might need transfusion.”

The FDA is now recommending that 11 southern and western states begin universal testing of all donated whole blood and blood components as soon as possible, but no later than Sept. 23. All other states, including Ohio, must begin testing no later than Nov. 18.

Mark Pompilio, a spokesman for the blood center, said local donors won’t be impacted immediately.

“We’re in a situation now where we are waiting for the chance to begin testing,” Pompilio said, noting that the blood center has been waiting for the diagnostic test to screen for Zika since June. “We do have leeway, and that’s good, because it’s definitely a situation were blood centers sort of have to get in line and wait for this test to be available to us. In the meantime, there shouldn’t be any change in what donors have become accustomed to.”

The blood center will continue screening potential donors who have traveled to Zika endemic areas, including Florida’s Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County, as well as the Caribbean, Mexico and Central or South America. Potential donors who have traveled to those areas within a prior four-week period will be deferred from donating blood for 28 days.

The Zika virus stays in the blood for about one week, but is thought to remain in other bodily fluids longer. The virus causes only a mild illness in most people, but infection during pregnancy can lead to severe brain-related birth defects.

While Zika is primarily spread through mosquito bites, there have been reports in Brazil of Zika transmission through transfusion. No such cases have been reported in the United States. One Zika-positive blood donation, though, was recently intercepted in Florida, Marks said Friday.

“The donation was identified while the blood bag was still in quarantine, before it was released,” Marks told reporters on a media call. “The system worked correctly.”

Zika also can be spread through sex, and Marks said that played into the decision to expand testing. Current evidence suggests that infected men can spread the virus for several months through sex, and women can transmit it for several weeks.

There have been more than 11,000 cases of Zika reported in the U.S. and its territories through Wednesday, including 33 in Ohio. But only Florida has reported active transmission by infected mosquitoes. The other cases originated in infected travelers returning to the United States.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.