The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is urging people who have returned from places where the Zika virus is active to refrain from donating blood for at least a month, while also recommending against the collection of blood from any region with active transmission. The updated guidelines apply to people who have been to areas with active Zika transmission or have had a confirmed case of the infection. Same goes for anyone who feels they might have been exposed to the virus. Because Zika is spread by infected mosquitoes, experts strongly suspect that it's transmitted via blood. To date, there have been no cases of Zika entering the blood supply in the United States, but the FDA is taking measures to ensure it stays that way.
"The FDA has critical responsibilities in outbreak situations and has been working rapidly to take important steps to respond to the emerging Zika virus outbreak," noted FDA acting chief scientist Luciana Borio in a prepared statement. "We are issuing this guidance for immediate implementation in order to better protect the US blood supply."
People who have travelled to an area with active Zika transmission should delay blood donations for at least four weeks. That gives the body enough time to rid itself of the virus. The same policy applies to anyone who has exhibited symptoms, or who has had sexual contact with "a person who has travelled to, or resided in, an area with active Zika virus transmission during the prior three months, and those who have travelled to areas with active transmission of Zika virus during the past four weeks".
The FDA is also advising that whole blood and blood components for transfusion be obtained from areas of the US without active transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa as areas with active Zika.
"Based on the best available evidence, we believe the new recommendations will help reduce the risk of collecting blood and blood components from donors who may be infected with the Zika virus," noted Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
Zika is symptomatic in only 20 per cent of people who get infected by it, making diagnosis difficult. For most people it's relatively harmless, but because it has been potentially linked to birth defects, scientists are urging caution.
While these guidelines were directed to Americans, it's prudent to keep them in mind if you are considering donating blood.
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