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Red Cross Says No Thanks to Donors Who Traveled to Zika Infected Countries

FEB 07, 2016 | CAITLYN FITZPATRICK
The blood donor eligibility criteria just got a little more exclusive with the ongoing Zika virus outbreak.

 “As part of our current health screening process, we only collect blood from donors who are healthy and feeling well at the time of donation,” Susan Stramer, PhD, vice president of Scientific Affairs at the American Red Cross, said in a statement on February 3.

The criteria for eligible donors no longer includes those who traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central or South America within the past 28 days. The mosquito-borne illness has circulated to 24 countries and regions so far, and with officials anticipating it to make the rounds in the United States, the Red Cross is being especially careful with donations.
In addition to the deferral for those who recently visited infected areas, the Red Cross asks that anyone who develops Zika symptoms within 14 days of donating notify them immediately. Such symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

The international non-profit organization focused on transfusion medicine and cellular therapies, AABB, released guidelines for blood donations as well. The guidelines encourage self-deferrals for individuals who have traveled to an infected region and promote educational materials for Zika and related viruses, dengue and chikungunya.

Zika’s main route of transmission is direct mosquito-to-human bite. However, the virus has spread through blood transfusion before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, the first sexually transmitted diagnosis was confirmed in Texas on February 2.

“The risk of contracting Zika by blood transfusion in the continental US is believed to be extremely low due to the absence of local mosquito transmission,” Stramer explained.
The Zika concern is coming at a particularly bad time since the Red Cross alerted that there is an emergency need for blood and platelet donors. Due to severe weather in January, more than 340 blood drives were cancelled across 20 states. An estimated 10,000 donations were lost as a result. Stramer reminds people that it’s safe to give and receive blood.
So what’s next for the Zika virus? The World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC continue to monitor the outbreak; and without a vaccine or specific treatment, preventive measures such as mosquito control are the best defense we have.
 
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