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West Nile Virus: Protecting the Blood Supply


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In the past couple of years the West Nile Virus has been spreading steadily, relentlessly west.

Most people bitten by an infected mosquito will experience no symptoms at all. But around 20 percent will suffer fever and aches and pains. And for around one percent it can be life threatening.

Last year 284 Americans died from West Nile Virus. Some of those contracted it from infected blood.

But now companies, including Chiron Corporation in Emeryville, California, have developed a test that can detect the virus in blood.

Lisa Bloch/ Blood Centers of the Pacific: "WE ARE GOING TO ADD THAT TO OUR REGIMEN OF TESTING. RIGHT NOW WE TEST FOR HIV, HEPATITIS, SYPHILLIS, AND WE ARE GOING TO ADD WEST NILE VIRUS, WHICH IS PRETTY SIGNIFICANT BECAUSE THERE HASN'T BEEN ANOTHER DISEASE ADDED FOR QUITE A WHILE."

Blood donations will be automatically screened for the virus. If any is detected the donation will be removed from the system and the donor informed.

For organizations like Blood Centers of the Pacific, the test makes it easier to keep the blood supply safe without putting extra restrictions on who can donate.

LISA BLOCH: "THERE WAS TALK ABOUT EVEN TURNING AWAY PEOPLE IF THEY HAD MOSQUITO BITES OR IF THEY VISITED THE SOUTH OR THINGS LIKE THAT. THERE WAS A LOT OF DISCUSSION ABOUT HOW DO WE CONTROL THIS IF WE DON'T HAVE A TEST? AND THANKFULLY WE DIDN'T HAVE TO GO DOWN THAT ROAD. NOW THERE'LL JUST BE A TEST."

The test is important because the fewer restrictions placed on donors, the more likely they are to return and give blood again.

And right now, the nation's blood banks need every donor they can get.

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