Are Blood Transfusions in the U.S. Safe from Zika?
A potentially serious infection that can cause debilitating birth defects, Zika has raised alarms throughout much of the world. As experts continue to learn more about the virus, some have expressed concern about the safety of the U.S. blood supply, which plays a key role in saving countless lives.
Could Blood Banks Be Tainted?
Usually spread by infected mosquitoes, Zika has also been shown capable of passing from one host to another via sex. According to experts, a transfusion of Zika-tainted blood could also transmit the virus to an otherwise healthy recipient. This is one big reason why the Food and Drug Administration recently recommended that all blood donations be tested for the Zika virus.
What’s Being Done?
Currently, there is still significant uncertainty regarding the nature of Zika virus transmission. That said, U.S. blood bank administrators say they are confident they can safeguard the United States’ blood supply from new Zika virus outbreaks during mosquito season.
Through a combination of special blood processing procedures and sophisticated genetic tests, U.S. blood banks analyze all donated blood to make sure it does not contain the Zika virus. To date, around 40 U.S. donations have tested positive since screening began. Most of these cases were in Florida; however, testing procedures are followed throughout blood banks across the country.
What Are the Risks?
While still biologically possible, transfusion-related Zika infections are extremely unlikely, according to experts. Thanks to widespread testing, there have been zero alleged or documented cases of Zika infection via blood transfusion in the U.S. or its territories. The tests are so effective, in fact, blood banks don’t find it necessary to ask volunteers if they’ve traveled to active Zika areas.
Routine blood processing appears to add another level of protection, according to experts. Research indicates that Zika virus particles become inactive when plasma is removed from whole blood and treated with standard pasteurization.