PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Test the entire blood supply for Zika. That’s what the Food and Drug Administration has recommended, due to the increasing numbers of cases in the United States.
“The blood centers for the most part anticipated that testing eventually was going to be required,” says Dr. Darrell Triulzi of the Central Blood Bank. “We’ll be ready by the November date.”
Zika can be transmitted by mosquitoes carrying the virus, but also through sex, from mother to child during pregnancy, from lab exposures, and in some cases, blood transfusions. Those cases occurred in Brazil.
Universal testing will be phased in across the country, first in the southeastern United States, followed by south central and southwestern states.
The mosquito that carries Zika can be found in the mid-Atlantic region, but in southwestern Pennsylvania, only a related species could potentially carry the virus. This buys some time.
“I don’t think there’s an immediate issue for us, but as Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania donors travel to Florida, let’s say over winter break, or they go on cruises that leave from Fort Lauderdale or Miami, there’s concern that they could be exposed, come back here and then donate blood here.”
The challenges of the phase-in include updating computer programs to record test results and donor contact information in case of a positive result.
And there’s the challenge of time.
“That’s a real challenge. In fact, the CDC has been taking weeks to turn around testing. In the blood banking world, we would have to do thousands of tests in a day to turn it around to make the blood available,” says Dr. Triulzi.
Blood bank testing will be done by regional centers. Pittsburgh’s blood will go to Dallas, where automated analysis will give results within 24 hours. Ironically, the test detecting Zika virus DNA is not yet FDA approved, but has had preliminary use and is allowed because of investigational new drug and device rules.
“The FDA feels the need for the safety intervention supersedes the timeline it would take to have the test licensed,” says Dr. Triulzi.
Donation is restricted for anyone who has traveled to a place where Zika is known.
“I think we’ll have a rare positive. and my guess is the positives we have will be people who travel to an endemic area, as opposed to anyone getting it from a mosquito bite here in Pennsylvania.”
If you donate and test positive for Zika, the Blood Bank will send you a letter advising you to see your doctor. While there’s no specific treatment for Zika, there are measures to take to prevent spread of the virus, and nerve complications to watch for.