As Zika Virus Spreads, FDA Urges Blood Donation Centers To Begin Screening For Zika Virus

Joshua Broom

Federal officials strongly recommended Friday that all United States blood centers begin screening for the damaging Zika virus. This suggestion is a significant step forward in the Food and Drug Administration's Zika-prevention initiative. Old FDA guidelines called only for screenings within areas active with cases of the mosquito-borne virus.

However, as Zika continues its spread throughout the continental U.S., FDA officials urge that each national blood-donation site begin screening donations for Zika no later than Nov. 18. In addition, blood banks in 11 states with reported Zika virus infections must implement these new mandates as soon as possible, yet no later than Sept. 23.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's biologic products center, stated the following to the New York Daily News.

"There is still much uncertainty regarding the nature and extent of Zika virus transmission. At this time, the recommendation for testing the entire blood supply will help ensure that safe blood is available for all individuals who might need transfusion."

The answer to that elementary Zika-related inquest is found in the virus' predominant spread to humans via the bite of an infected female Aedes aegypti mosquito. This type of mosquito carries dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) states Aedes mosquitoes are present in all countries of the Americas except Canada and continental Chile, and the virus is likely to make its way to all countries and territories of the regions in which Aedes are present.

Contraction of Zika is typical through sexual intercourse with an infected partner, and the initial 21 recorded instances of sexual transmission included persons exhibiting previous symptoms. However, in a shocking turn, researchers unearthed Friday that a non-symptomatic Maryland man infected his female partner following a trip to the Dominican Republic.

The CDC strongly cautions refraining from sex without a condom with any person, male or female, who has traveled to or lives in an area with Zika. This includes female-to-female relations with a pregnant partner.

While this news is concerning, the amplified response by health officials concerning Zika comes a week following U.S. health experts' advisory to pregnant women against traveling to Miami Beach. The popular tourist destination has seen two outbreaks of Zika. So far, Florida contains each of the United States' 43 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus.

Pregnant women comprise the group most susceptible to the worst possible Zika-associated health risks, per Yahoo News.

"Current research indicates the greatest microcephaly risk is associated with infection during the first trimester of pregnancy, but health officials have warned an impact could be seen in later weeks. Recent studies have shown evidence of Zika in amniotic fluid, placenta and fetal brain tissue."

Zika testing is underway at blood banks in Puerto Rico and parts of Florida where "it has shown to be beneficial in identifying donations infected with Zika virus," the FDA said. Many additional blood collection sites across the U.S. are voluntarily utilizing experimental Zika tests.

There are no cases of Zika-related blood transfusions in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adding Zika to other blood-borne viruses that collection banks already screen for, including HIV and the West Nile, costs less than $10 USD.

Travelers at New York's bustling LaGuardia Airport preparing to fly to Florida say that they're planning to take extra preventative measures to combat Zika.

"I've definitely thought about it. It's scary," said Chelsea Barnwell, 25, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who is flying to Miami to visit family. "I brought my sunblock and I have a lot of mosquito repellent. Everyone in my family is gonna be completely covered."

[Image via Creative-AP Stock]