(CN) – The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday recommended that U.S. blood banks put a 28-day hold on donations from people who have traveled to nations affected by the Zika virus.
Several confirmed cases of the Zika virus have been reported in the United States since active transmissions began throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, though all but one of them have been from mosquito bites. The Red Cross and other groups have recommended a similar timeframe for individuals who have potentially been exposed to the virus.
The agency also said that blood banks could continue collecting platelets and plasma if FDA-approved pathogen-reduction tools are used. However, such technology has not been approved for treating whole red blood used for most transfusions.
“We believe the new recommendations will help reduce the risk of collecting blood and blood components from donors who may be infected with the Zika virus,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s biologics division, said in a statement.
Cases of Zika have been reported among travelers who have visited some of the 30 nations affected within Latin America and the Caribbean. While many infected individuals experience mild symptoms or do not even notice any physical issues, the virus is thought to be particularly dangerous for pregnant women due to a suspected connection to two neurological disorders, microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Microcephaly results in reduced head size and potential brain damage for babies, while Guillain-Barre syndrome causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, potentially leading to temporary paralysis. Both disorders can result in death.
One case of the virus being transmitted sexually has been reported in Texas, highlighting an additional danger that blood and other bodily fluids pose. While there has not been a confirmed case of Zika being transmitted through blood, health officials said the precautionary measures are important.
Whether a transfusion from an individual infected with Zika would result in the recipient becoming ill is unclear, as the dengue and chikungunya viruses generally do not result in transfusion patients experiencing symptoms. These viruses come from the same mosquito, the aedes aegypti.
The FDA also recommends that individuals who have had sexual contact with a person who has traveled to or lived in regions with active Zika transmissions over the past three months, or people who have noticed Zika-like symptoms, wait four weeks to donate blood.
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