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M. D. Anderson Blood Bank Using New Test to Screen Donated Blood for West Nile Virus

M. D. Anderson Blood Bank Using New Test to Screen Donated Blood for West Nile Virus
M. D. Anderson News Release 07/11/03

The blood bank at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center recently began screening all blood donations for West Nile virus using a new test to detect potentially infected blood more quickly and at an earlier stage.

“This new screening tool enables us to reduce the threat of West Nile in our blood supply,” says Kathleen Sazama, M.D., professor of laboratory medicine at M. D. Anderson. “Because we perform the test on-site, donated blood also is available to patients faster than with alternate screening methods.”

The test detects lower levels of the virus than tests used previously by identifying the ribonucleic acid (RNA) of West Nile in blood. Traditional screening tests look for antibodies, which are a sign that the body already has begun fighting an infection. RNA testing detects the presence of a virus in blood, even before the body develops antibodies against the virus.

The blood bank at M. D. Anderson uses a single unit screening test, which clears blood products for use within eight hours. So far, approximately 900 units of blood in M. D. Anderson’s inventory have been screened, resulting in one confirmed positive for West Nile virus.

“Many of our patients have compromised immune systems, especially those being treated for leukemia and lymphoma or receiving a bone marrow transplant, and need a blood transfusion at some point in their treatment,” Sazama adds. “Our goal is to offer the safest blood supply possible to our patients and we believe this test will help us offer a greater level of assurance.”

Although this blood screening test is part of a national clinical trial, it employs technology already approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration to detect HIV in donated blood.

In addition to improving the safety of donated blood, the new tool could also aid public health officials in identifying West Nile cases earlier and targeting high-risk areas to reduce the mosquito population. West Nile has a 10-day latency period, meaning that an infected person may not develop symptoms until 10 days after coming in contact with the virus. When donated blood tests positive for West Nile, that information will be shared with public health authorities. Previously, West Nile infections were only confirmed after an infected person sought treatment for flu-like symptoms – usually several days after the infection.

Last summer’s outbreak of West Nile virus prompted the federal government to call for a screening test that could effectively screen donated blood for the virus. While the majority of West Nile infections are spread by insects – primarily mosquitoes – the Centers for Disease Control confirmed last year that the virus can also be spread through blood and organ donation. Following the FDA’s recommendation, the nation’s blood banks will screen all donations for West Nile virus.

M. D. Anderson’s blood bank collects approximately 45,000 units of donated blood annually. As one of the country’s largest blood transfusion sites, M. D. Anderson’s blood bank provides patients with approximately100 units of red blood cells and 400 units of platelets every day.


© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center