New precautions to keep blood supply safe

Posted at 5:00 AM, May 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-20 07:31:38-04

The summer is upon us. With that comes summer traveling, mosquitoes and a heightened awareness of the Zika virus. 

Hospitals are working with blood banks to make sure their supply is safe through new precautions as the virus spreads. 

Kansas City's mosquitoes don't carry the Zika virus, but prevention starts in the metro's blood banks. They're not concerned with the bugs, but where the donor has been. 

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Kansas Hospital, says there is one important thing to remember. 

"There's been no active transmission in the United States, documented," Hawkinson said. 

Since March, six people in Kansas and Missouri have contracted the Zika virus from mosquitos in other countries where there is active Zika transmission. The cases are all travel-related. The virus can cause serious birth defects in newborns, such as microcephaly. 

To keep the blood safe, the FDA recommended blood banks add questions on the donor history questionnaire. 

Blood banks like Community Blood Center tell each potential donor about the additional questions when they check in. Since the virus doesn't appear to be going away any time soon, they say, the Zika-specific questions will soon be added onto the standard questionnaire. 

It asks: 

  • If the person has been to any of the 44 countries where there is active transmission.
  • If within two weeks of return the person felt any of the following: fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, red eyes, headache.
  • If the person has had sex with a man who has Zika, feels at least two of the symptoms or has been to a Zika risk area.

If the donor has Zika or has been to the risk areas, they can't donate for four weeks. 

"I think the screening is really good," Ann Ousley said as she donated blood. "If people are honest, and I hope that they are, it'll give good blood donations."

Even with the precautions, doctors like Hawkinson are remaining vigilant. 

"I'm sure once it gets warmer and there's mosquitoes and people come down with more typical illnesses which we see every year, there's going to be more concern with Zika infections for sure," he said. 

Hawkinson said Zika is usually marked with a mild illness and clears up quickly.  However, the effects on a pregnant woman's baby are much worse. 

The Senate on Thursday approved its $1.1 billion plan to combat Zika, starting talks with the House over how much money to devote to fighting the virus, and whether to cut Ebola funding to help pay for it. 

The House put forth a $622 million measure, which the White House would veto, saying it's not enough money. 

There are more than 500 travel-related Zika cases in the continental United States. 



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