Uncle Sam has decided to play it safe with the nation’s blood supplies and the globally spreading Zika virus that can cause abnormalities in babies born to infected moms.
The Food and Drug Administration has ordered blood banks to use two experimental tests to detect Zika in donated supplies, or to decontaminate plasma and platelets with new technologies. Such screenings already are in place with blood donated in Florida and Puerto Rico, where locally spread Zika infections have been confirmed.
But, in addition, 11 states including Texas, Alabama, Arizona, California, New York and Louisiana must put the new blood safeguards in place in a month or so; other states have three months to implement these measures.
Zika’s primary means of confirmed transmission have been through biting mosquitoes and unprotected sex. Health officials said they believe there are sufficient testing kits available to protect the blood supplies. They provided no estimate for what these steps will cost.
But with more than 2,500 confirmed Zika infections in the mainland United States−most, except in Florida, contracted outside this country−concern has grown that the virus not only will spread but will pose health challenges for at least a year or two. There also have been almost 9,000 Zika case confirmed in U.S. territories.
Although Zika causes only minor discomfort for many infected with it (headaches, muscle pains, fever, rashes, and chills), it also has been linked in pregnant mothers who have contracted it to infant cranial malformations (microcephaly) and other brain damage.
U.S. officials have taken extreme care with blood borne viral infections after the nation’s adverse experiences with HIV-AIDS. Before experts fully grasped the harms of AIDS, the virus had entered blood supplies and tragically infected recipients of donated supplies, including pediatric patients. As I have written, critics say those who run blood banks may be overzealous in their donor screening, failing to acknowledge technological advances in viral detection and displaying bias, for example, against the LGBTQ community.