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Published on February 05, 2016

Delay blood donation if you’ve been to Zika areas

Delay blood donation if you’ve been to Zika areas

Responding to the fast-growing Zika outbreak outside the United States, Cape Cod Healthcare’s Blood Center is requesting that anyone wishing to donate blood wait at last 28 days after returning from visits to Mexico, Caribbean countries, and Central and South America.

If anyone has donated blood recently and developed symptoms of Zika, they are asked to immediately contact the Blood Center at 508-862-5663, so their blood can be quarantined.

The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye), muscle pain and headaches.

“Because there is no blood test to detect Zika like there is for HIV, hepatitis, West Nile virus and the parasite that causes malaria, self-reporting is absolutely critical,” said Constance Patten, director of Cape Cod Healthcare’s Blood Center, which supplies blood to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis and Falmouth Hospital.

“Cape Cod Healthcare has mobilized rapidly and comprehensively to educate, monitor and quality control our blood supplies. We are committed around the clock to providing the most reliable blood to our patients,” she said.

All blood donors already answer a questionnaire prior to giving blood that includes their recent travels, noted Patten. Cape Cod Healthcare follows recommendations issued by the American Association of Blood Banks.

In addition to the 28-day self-deferral, the association instructs that any unexplained post-donation illness with two or more of the Zika symptoms be reported to the blood bank as soon as possible, and no later than 14 days after a donation. If that occurs, the blood bank will quarantine the blood in question.

The virus appears to disappear within two to three weeks – thus the 28-day self-deferral request.

However, its impact on pregnant women is creating a public health emergency among the more than two dozen countries where it is spreading. The virus can infect the fetus and appears to increase the likelihood of microcephaly, the abnormal smallness of the head, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development. The highest risk to the fetus is believed to be when a mother is infected during the first trimester.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions that more research is needed to better understand the link between Zika and microcephaly. But it is recommending special precautions for both pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant.

  • Consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
  • If you do travel, talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.

Testing capacity is limited for the Zika virus and the CDC is only accepting samples from pregnant women with recent (within 12 weeks) travel to countries with identified transmission. This makes self-reporting “absolutely critical,” said Patten.

The Cape Cod Healthcare blood bank is providing the public with materials and recommendations provided by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB).

A survey administered last year through the AABB indicated that about 2.25 percent of qualified donors had traveled to countries now infected with Zika in the summer of 2014 and winter of 2015 within 28 days of donating.

That suggests that if a similar number responsibly self-defer from donating now, that could lead to a two to three percent reduction in available blood supplies.

“We are hopeful that other, healthy donors step up to maintain blood supplies,” said Patten.