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CDC: New Test May Help Screen Blood Donations for Zika

Researchers using investigational nucleic acid test to screen blood for Zika

FRIDAY, June 17, 2016 (HealthDay News) — The Zika virus is spreading through Puerto Rico, placing hundreds of pregnant women at risk for delivering babies with microcephaly, and blood centers in Puerto Rico have begun testing donations for Zika, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Testing of blood donations in Puerto Rico — “our most accurate real-time leading indicator of Zika activity” — shows that more and more people in the U.S. island territory have been infected with the mosquito-borne virus, CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said during a media briefing. Blood centers in Puerto Rico began testing donations for Zika on April 3, using an experimental nucleic acid test made by New Jersey-based Roche Molecular Systems.

For weeks, the percentage of blood donations testing positive for Zika has been increasing in Puerto Rico, reaching as high as 1.1 percent for the latest week of reporting, June 5 to 11, according to research published in the early-release June 17 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “The concern here is when we translate that into an exposure over multiple months, it is many times that 1 percent rate,” Frieden explained.

A total of 68 blood donations have come back positive for Zika out of 12,777 tested, the CDC said. All Zika-tainted donations are removed from the blood supply. Plans are in place to implement the Roche test at blood banks in the continental United States if Zika virus starts to spread locally, Matthew Kuehnert, M.D., director of the CDC’s Office of Blood, Organ, and Other Tissue Safety, said during the briefing. No places in the continental United States currently have local transmission of Zika. But one blood bank, the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston, has already started screening donations for Zika under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s investigational approval for the Roche test.

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