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OneBlood To Begin Testing For Zika

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OneBlood.org
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On Monday, Aug. 1, one of the nation's largest blood suppliers will begin testing its donations for the Zika virus.

 

OneBlood’s announcement on Thursday comes the same day that Florida health officials reported that a woman in Miami-Dade could be the state’s first Zika case who contracted the virus without traveling outside the continental United States. Later, a spokeswoman corrected the statement, saying that sexual transmission related to travel has not been ruled out.  

“We’ve been working with the Florida Department of Health to develop a Zika plan for the state,” said Dr. Rita Reik, OneBlood’s Chief Medical Officer. “We’ve also been working with the CDC and the [Food and Drug Administration] to make sure that Florida has a safe blood supply.”

Reik adds that the timing of their announcement was coincidental.

“We had been ready to bring up the Zika test on August 1,” said Reik. “And then we did get the news from the Florida Department of Health that they were investigating a possible case. And we realized that it probably would be a good time to let the public know we were ready to start testing for Zika.”

The test developed by OneBlood is a Nucleic Acid Test, or “NAT,” which OneBlood’s Dr. Rita Reik says is pulled very heavily on their West Nile experience.

“[NAT] looks for particles of actually the viral DNA in the blood,” Reik says. “It can pick up a very, very small amount of viral particles. So it’s a great test for screening, because it can catch even very early infections.”

The testing will involve a portion of OneBlood’s daily inventory from their centers in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. The units that pass will be made available to hospitals for at-risk patients, including pregnant women.

As of Thursday, 288 cases of Zika not involving pregnant women have been reported in Florida. Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties have reported one case each, all have fully recovered. Forty-six pregnant women have been monitored, with 15 meeting the previous CDC case definition. 

Testifying before Congress last week, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden called Zika the latest in a series of unpredicted and unpredictable health threats. 

“What is predictable, is that we will have new health threats, and we need a way to respond rapidly and robustly to identify problems where they first emerge and stop them when they first come out,” Frieden said.

Miami physician Dr. Michael Diamond is among those researching the Zika virus and its effects. He tells the Associated Press that avoiding the pests is something that Americans are good at.

“We live in air-conditioned houses, we travel in air-conditioned cars, we have screens on our doors,” said Diamond. “We actually have public health departments which can do mosquito control very effectively.”

Diamond says their research shows that an immediate reduction in the number of transfusions by pre-screening people would also prove significant.

“Some people don’t have any symptoms and still have the virus in their blood,” Diamond said. “It would cut down significantly on the risk. Even if it were to occur it’s probably a very low-frequency event – meaning that the vast majority of [the blood supply] is probably safe.” 

Meanwhile, State health officials and the CDC in Miami have been trapping and testing Aedes aegypti mosquitoes -- considered the most common transmitters of the Zika virus.  

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.