U.S. Weighs Blood Donation Changes Over Zika Virus
Temporary ban might be imposed on travelers returning from countries where the virus has taken hold
By Dennis Thompson
FRIDAY, Jan. 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials are considering whether to put a halt to blood donations from travelers returning from countries affected by the Zika virus, primarily in Central and South America.
At a media briefing Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said a review of blood donation policies was underway, based on whether a person may have been exposed to the virus that has been linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil.
"The FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] is looking at the issue of blood supply, blood donors and travelers," Fauci said. "We know it [the virus] is in the bloodstream very briefly, most people have cleared the bloodstream of the virus after about a week."
Canadian health officials announced Thursday that they would put blood-donation restrictions in place by next week.
Dr. Dana Devine, chief medical and scientific officer for Canadian Blood Services, said the agency expects to block donations from people who have traveled to countries affected by the Zika virus for "a number of weeks" after their return, Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper reported. The exact date for the restrictions has yet to be determined, she said.
"We think it is the wise thing to do," said Devine, who added that the risk of getting the Zika virus from blood was pretty low, "but not impossible."
U.S. health officials said at Thursday's media briefing that efforts to create a Zika vaccine were getting a leg up from lessons learned during earlier battles against other mosquito-borne viruses.
Researchers are working on two potential vaccines, each based on earlier vaccines created in response to prior outbreaks of West Nile virus and dengue, Fauci said during a morning news conference.
"It is to our advantage that we already have existing vaccine platforms to use as a sort of jumping-off point," Fauci said.
A Zika vaccine could be ready for clinical trial by later this year, but Fauci warned that it will likely take years before the vaccine is ready for market.