Donated Blood to be Tested for West Nile Virus

Donated Blood to be Tested for West Nile Virus

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Ed Yeates ReportingLast year, researchers confirmed West Nile Virus can be transmitted through donated blood.

So beginning next week, blood banks for the first time will begin testing donors for the virus - much like they now do for HIV and Hepatitis.

The Government asked research labs to begin developing a test and have it ready for use by July first of this year. A California Biotech company did just that. And under a special provision, the FDA approved it for immediate use as an investigational test.

Jim Macpherson, CEO America's Blood Centers: "It's critical that a West Nile virus test be available for this mosquito season because we learned last year that the virus can be transmitted through blood transfusions to people who are very ill and could develop fatal infections."

While West Nile can produce a life threatening illness in one out of every 150 people, some infected with the virus carry it in their blood with no symptoms at all. They remain healthy and, if anything, may just show signs of a minor cold.

Annie Strupp, M.D., Utah division, American Red Cross: "The West Nile virus test is still so new we don't know what our deferral period is going to be for the test. But I would anticipate that once we figure that out, someone who tests positive, we will be able to bring them back into the donor pool in a relatively short period of time."

The West Nile test detects very small particles of the virus before the body even develops antibodies. And it does it quickly.

While the virus has not been detected in Utah so far, it's expected to arrive sometime over the next several months. The Red Cross is not waiting. Tests here begin next week.

Even with this additional test, the Red Cross does not expect to see a delay in getting blood from donors to users quickly.

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