Infectious Threats Put Blood Supply at Risk

There is growing concern regarding the increasing threat of <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/diseases">infectious diseases on the nation’s blood supply. For instance, blood centers routinely test for hepatitis C and AIDS, but now tests donated blood for West Nile virus and Chagas which, said the Journal, is a tropical, parasitic disease.

Sadly, although new screening tests are called for, needed testing is difficult to develop and implementation involves government approval, which can take significant time, said the Journal. Emerging threats—for instance, the parasitic infection, babesiosis and Chickungunya, a dangerous virus—exist in the United States, but are not screened for because such screening does not exist, noted the Journal.

No small issue, babesiosis has been linked to 10 deaths in the U.S. since 2006; those deaths were linked to blood transfusions. Chickungunya made its way into U.S. and Europe from Africa in very recent years, said the Journal. And, last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first dengue fever outbreak in the U.S. since 1945, said the Journal, which described dengue as a dangerous mosquito-borne illness that kills about 25,000 annually.

Now, blood supply officials are asking the government to approve pathogen reduction technology designed to kill an array of blood contaminants post-donation, said the Journal. As a matter-of-fact, one method is being used in about 12 European countries and Asia and is known to kill the majority of pathogens with a technology involving chemicals and UV light, explained the Journal. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not approve this technology in recent years—it cited side effects—the agency is evaluating the process, noted the Journal. According to an FDA spokeswoman, pathogen-reduction “could potentially protect blood from known and unknown infectious agents,” quoted the Journal.

As people travel, pathogens emerge and, in recent years, we have also seen dangerous, deadly spikes in antibiotic resistant pathogens. According to the Journal, 68 infectious agents were newly identified that could pose risks to the blood supply. Citing the most recently available figures—from 2006—the Journal noted that some 16 million units of whole and red blood cells were donated in the U.S.

The American Red Cross and a number of private blood banks—with the FDA regulating blood operations—handle much of the blood supply, explained the Journal. Very recently, a nationwide group of labor unions, consumers, and health advocates asked the FDA to take steps to correct the Red Cross’s continuing failures to protect the blood supply, said InTheNews. Since 2003, the agency has fined the Red Cross $21 million for blood safety violations and a press release issued by the group stated, “Last fall, the FDA issued a report on blood safety violations at Red Cross, citing 231 blood product recall events involving the distribution of 7,363 unsuitable blood components,” quoted InTheNews.

“We believe the Red Cross is failing to take the steps needed to improve its safety practices. We are particularly concerned about the large number of blood products that were distributed despite the fact that Red Cross had already identified them as suspect or unsuitable. This is completely unacceptable from the consumer’s perspective,” said Sally Greenberg Executive Director, National Consumers League, quoted InTheNews. “No one in America should have to worry that the blood they are receiving in a transfusion could be from a tainted blood product,” added Greenberg.

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