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FDA Recommends Zika Virus Testing For All Donated Blood, Blood Components In US Territories

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has notified all the blood establishments in the country on Friday, Aug. 26, to test all the the donated whole blood and blood components for Zika virus.

The agency has come up with the measure to contain the transmission of Zika virus infection to people through the contaminated blood supplies. The infection, which is spread by mosquito bite, is currently localized to Florida and transfusion of blood contaminated with Zika virus could result in spread of infection throughout the country.

On the other hand, transfusion of contaminated blood to pregnant women could lead to severe birth defects like microcephaly to their unborn babies. Considering the possibility of travel-related infection, the FDA guidelines issued in February for screening of donated blood in Florida is extended to all the U.S. territories.

The infection, which has its origin in Brazil, was first thought to spread only by mosquito bites. Later on, it was observed that the virus could also be acquired through unprotected sex as well as infected blood transfusion.

About 1,800 cases of children with microcephaly are reported in Brazil by far, while 270 cases more are expected by U.S. officials in Puerto Rico, where there is a high prevalence of local transmission.

"There could be multiple outbreaks of Zika happening outside the known current ones in South Florida, but because we are not actively looking they could be happening silently," noted Dr. Peter J. Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, who appreciated FDA's effort.

Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said that there are about 8,000 and 2,000 travel and non-travel related Zika virus cases in the country respectively. He also explained that about 80 percent of people that donate might not be aware of their infection since the infection is relatively symptomless in most cases.

Marks added that blood testing would help in containing the spread of infection to great extent as nearly one percent of blood screened in Florida was reported to have Zika virus.

Luciana Borio, M.D., the FDA's acting chief scientist, said that the scientific and epidemiological information on Zika virus clearly indicates the need for precautionary measures to prevent the spread of infection.

"We are issuing revised guidance for immediate implementation in order to help maintain the safety of the U.S. blood supply," noted Borio.

Photo: Johan G | Flickr

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