(CN) — The Food and Drug Administration recommended Friday that all U.S. blood banks begin screening for the Zika virus, which has been transmitted locally in three areas of Florida over the past few months.
The new advisory is considered a major expansion of its policy on Zika, as the agency had previously only monitored blood donations in areas affected by Zika transmission — which would include parts of Florida, as well as Puerto Rico.
“The FDA is updating its guidance after careful consideration of all available scientific evidence, consultation with other public health agencies, and taking into consideration the potential serious health consequences of Zika virus infection to pregnant women and children born to women exposed to Zika virus during pregnancy,” the agency said in a statement released Friday.
The virus spread rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean since mid-2015, though it has slowed down due to the Southern Hemisphere entering winter, during which the primary vector of Zika, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is less active.
“As new scientific and epidemiological information regarding Zika virus has become available, it’s clear that additional precautionary measures are necessary,” FDA acting chief scientist Luciana Borio said in a statement. “We are issuing revised guidance for immediate implementation in order to help maintain the safety of the U.S. blood supply.”
While Zika produces minor side effects in adults, its connection to congenital neurological disorders, such as microcephaly, makes it particularly dangerous for pregnant women, or women who are trying to get pregnant.
Microcephaly leads to babies being born with abnormally small heads and potential brain damage.
New evidence indicates Zika can remain in a baby’s system for up to two or three months, adding to the risk associated with the virus.
The new recommendations for blood banks “will be in effect until the risk of transfusion transmission of Zika virus is reduced,” the FDA said.
A travel advisory for the Wynwood area — a neighborhood in North Miami — has been in effect since Aug. 1, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued another travel advisory last week for Miami Beach.
Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott confirmed a case of locally transmitted Zika in Pinellas County, marking the third area of the state hit by the virus. Pinellas County is located near Tampa on the state’s west coast.
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