US blood banks have assured the American public that they have the tools to prevent a Zika contamination, despite the rapid spread of the disease.
If a recipient receives a transfusion that is contaminated with the virus, they could become infected. However, thanks to genetic tests and blood processing procedures, the likelihood of this occurring is very slim, according to a series of reports in the journal Transfusion last month.
Furthermore, Susan Stramer, Vice President of Scientific Affairs for the American Red Cross, revealed that every single blood donation in the US is rigorously tested for the presence of the Zika virus. Screening began in November 2016 and, as a result of this process, there have been no cases of Zika transmitted via blood transfusions in America.
Speaking about the issue, Dr. Louis Katz, Chief Medical Officer of America's Blood Centers, said:
Women in the most vulnerable period of pregnancy for bad fetal outcomes are rarely transfused in the United States, so Zika-related birth defects are even remoter risks.
In the southern US last year, there were 23 possible Zika-tainted donations out of almost 360,000, 14 of which were detected in Florida. Ten of these had travelled to an area of high-risk 90 days prior to donating; two had travelled to Miami whilst the rest had returned from Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad, Mexico, Cuba, or the Dominican Republic.
Five further Zika-positive samples were identified in Arizona, California, Nevada, New York, and Texas out of more than 466,000 samples in a second nationwide study.
However, the Zika threat cannot be eradicated simply by screening blood donations. Indeed, the disease has been spreading at an alarming rate, courtesy of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are found in southern parts of the United States. The disease can also be transmitted sexually.
Meanwhile, Zika can also be transmitted in pregnant which can result in severe complications. The virus inhibits nerve cells which delays cell growth in developing brains, causing abnormalities in cells and cell death. The chances the baby will be born with microcephaly (i.e., small heads and nervous system disorders) range from 1% to 13% if the Zika infection is contracted in the first trimester of pregnancy.
As of March 14, 2017, there have been 56 infants born with Zika-related defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics are certainly worrisome in relation to this condition; There has been a 1,900% increase in this condition in the US from last year in comparison to 2013–2014.
As of April 5, 2017, there have been 5,197 cases of the Zika virus reported to the CDC, with 4,901 of these resulting from travel to infected areas. The highest rates of mosquito transmission were found in Florida (216 cases) and Texas (6 cases).
Preventative measures include avoiding travel to areas of high risk and insect bites, wearing repellant, and using condoms, or abstaining from sexual activity. Phase 2 of the Zika vaccine trial has also commenced. It was developed by the the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, to combat the threat.