West Nile causes concern about transfusions - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

West Nile causes concern about transfusions

September 19, 2002

The Centers for Disease Control confirms you can get West Nile virus from a blood transfusion.

The dangerous virus can live in donated blood for several days. So now, the work begins to develop a test to make sure blood is free of West Nile. Hospital emergency rooms are often where people come when they need blood transfusions.

The news that blood can carry West Nile is of concern to everyone, not just health workers, but any of us who may one day need blood. The blood bank at HCA-Palymra Hospital is filled with shelves of blood in different types, like A, B, and O, but healthcare workers the blood shortage may increase.

Southwest Georgia health care workers don't want patients to panic now that the Centers for Disease Control says the West Nile virus can be spread through blood transfusions.

Palymra Lab Technician, Diane Parker says the hospital gives about twenty units of blood a week to patients. "The basic queston is their concern that the blood is safe. Until there is a test available, it is hard to say that it is or is not. The best thing to do is if you need a transfusion, is to take the blood."

Parker also says this is not the first scare with transfusions. In the past, people were afraid they would contract AIDS from blood, and now it's the West Nile virus. "You still have a concern but I think the cahnces of getting West Nile may be less than what the scare was with HIV," Parker said.

Health workers stress if you need blood, you should not reject what could be a lifesaving transfusion. "Don't panic, use caution. If you don't need blood, just be careful, take care of yourself, so you won'y have to get blood."

Until researchers develop a test to detect West Nile in blood, patients will have to take their chances and report any flu-like symptoms to their doctors. Diane Parker also says that as of now West Nile is very hard to detect because there are relatively small amounts of West Nile virus in tainted blood.

So is there a West Nile test for blood on the horizon? As of now, no. The West Nile virus harder to detect than a virus such as HIV. So far, the CDC confirms 1,745 human cases of West Nile in the U.S. with 84 reported deaths.

Concerns about the blood supply were raised last month, when a Georgia woman killed in a car wreck donated four of her organs. All four of the people who received them were diagnosed with West Nile. Health officials weren't sure if the woman already had West Nile or if she received it in a blood transfusion after her car wreck.

And of course we now know that it is possible to get West Nile through a transfusion. We're still waiting for confirmation from the CDC on two suspected West Nile Cases in our area. It's been more than two weeks since a Colquitt County woman tested positive.

This week, district health officials announced a positive test in Dougherty County. The Centers for Disease Control  lists 17 confirmed cases throughout the state and three deaths. Georgia Health officials say West Nile has killed five Georgians so far.

posted at 5:15PM by dave.miller@walb.com