Virus May Threaten Blood Supply

An infectious virus is receiving attention from media and public health officials for its potential risk to the nation’s blood supply, writes Health Leaders Media, citing the Wall Street Journal. The virus, which is linked to two diseases and seems to spread in the same way as HIV, has raised some concern. Health officials are looking into the possible threat that the <"">XMRV virus could potentially cause, said Health Leaders Media; however, officials claim that there is no evidence, to date, of an infection spread.

XMRV has been linked to prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the Journal, the virus was discovered in 2006 after being located in tumor samples taken from men who diagnosed with a rare and familial form of prostate cancer. Further research linked XMRV to chronic fatigue syndrome, added the Journal, which also pointed out that XMRV is found in what it described as “measurable levels” in the blood of healthy individuals. Other studies have been unable to find the virus in chronic fatigue syndrome patients, pointed out the Journal.

“These are early days trying to understand the public health significance of XMRV,” said Jay Epstein, director of the Office of Blood Research and Review at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), quoted the Journal. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the FDA, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have funded work to test for the virus and determine its prevalence, said the Journal. Blood banks, an advocacy group, and some academic entities are involved, said the Journal.

Experts are interested in the XMRV as part of a larger effort to track newer infections, older infections seeing an upswing, and potentially dangerous infections said the Journal. Today, there are a dozen tests that block infections from the blood supply, including HIV and hepatitis C; other screens are being reviewed for dengue, human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and malaria-causing agents, reported the Journal. No FDA-licensed lab test exists for XMRV and health officials said standards for diagnosing the virus are in progress, explained the Journal.

Of note, public-health officials report that infections not generally seen in the United States can end up making a quick presence due to the prevalence of international travel; also, some viruses have longer incubation periods, which can delay confirmation that a disease was contracted via the blood supply, said the Journal. Complicating the issue, said the Journal, citing an October 2009 report, a federal advisory committee on blood safety and availability found that so-called “biovigilance” in this country is a “patchwork of activities, not a cohesive national program,” quoted the Journal.

The most recent available data indicate that some 16 million units of whole blood and red blood cells were donated in the U.S. in 2006, according to the 2007 National Blood Collection and Utilization Report, cited the Journal. The American Red Cross, the entity that collects nearly half of all the blood donations in the U.S., said that it estimates that about 10,000 donors annually are infected with pathogens that are part of the screening process, with about half turning out to be the hepatitis C virus.

The AABB, a group comprised of facilities that collect just about all of the U.S. blood supply, just created an XMRV task force, said the Journal, which added that XMRV is not on the AABB transfusion-risk committee’s list of infectious agents. The list was developed before concerns about XMRV emerged.

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