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Pittsburgh Blood Banks Anticipated Universal Zika Testing

When blood donation centers in Pennsylvania received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommendations for universal Zika virus testing, Central Blood Bank medical director Darrel Triulizi wasn’t surprised.

Before the agency’s Aug. 26 announcement, collection sites were already testing for HIV, HPV and West Nile. Triulizi said the Zika tests require a separate kit, but the existing technology they use for screening is the same.

“We anticipated the FDA was moving in this direction, so we have already been in contact with the vendors of the test and our donor testing laboratory,” Triulizi said.

The system used by the Central Blood Bank, which serves Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, returns test results in about a day, he said. Triulizi doesn’t anticipate significant impact to their inventory, which he defined as the loss of 1 or 2 percent of donors.

“We probably would have lost more donors with the geographic question than we will with testing,” he said.

Medical officials traditionally ask donors about recent travel activityin an effort to filter out those returning from regions with a high prevalence of transmittable viruses. Because the FDA is requiring testing for all, regardless of travel history, the question will be struck from pre-donor surveys.

Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a man had given Zika virus to his partner without knowing he had acquired it. The absence of symptoms, Triulizi said, is very rare unless the infected spends significant time where Zika is common.

“In Puerto Rico, where the virus is endemic, a couple percent of otherwise healthy people, blood donors, had a positive test,” he said. “But that’s where the prevalence is high,not so in Pennsylvania.”

American Red Cross Scientific Affairs vice president Susan Stramer said in a statement that the organization is “working to implement the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s guidance” and has already been testing all donations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina.

They plan to screen additional states in the coming weeks.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.