BLOOD DONORS CARRY WEST NILE VIRUS

A new test has detected the West Nile Virus in more than 600 blood donors across the country this summer, preventing transfusions of the contaminated blood, federal health officials said.

According to a Sept. 19, 2003, article in The New York Times, there is no way to know for sure how many West Nile cases were prevented by the test to screen blood donations because scientists do not know how many recipients of the contaminated blood became ill.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said two patients who received transfusions this summer did contract West Nile encephalitis. Screening tests failed to detect the virus in one case and officials were not certain how the other case occurred. Last year, 23 patients acquired West Nile through transfusions, according to the Times article.

According to the CDC, all blood banks are using blood screening tests for West Nile and blood banks will not take donations from people who have fever and a headache in the week before they donated blood. These new screening methods will allow blood banks to destroy potentially infected blood before it is given to anyone.

Sources: Lawrence K. Altman, The New York Times, “Testing finds blood donors are carrying Nile virus” and www.cdc.gov

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