Zika Virus Impacts Blood Donations in RI
Among health issues that impact a person's eligibility to donate blood are the common cold and flu. Though Rhode Island is thousands of miles away from areas of the world directly impacted by mosquitoes carrying Zika, the impact has been felt here. The blood center is asking donors who have not travelled to areas with active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus to make the extra effort to give blood. Over 200 donations in RI are needed every single day to meet the needs of patients.
"When only about 5% of the Rhode Island population donates blood," says Nicole Pineault, director of Donor Resources at RIBC, "We become concerned about how a potential increase in temporary deferrals from travel to Zika affected areas, (common vacation spots), could impact donations." So far, RIBC has seen over 363 Zika deferrals. "A community that donates blood regularly is important. When new or additional travel deferrals are in place, it's especially important to make the extra effort donate or give before traveling to help ensure a healthy blood supply," adds Nicole.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, as of May 4, there have been two travel-associated cases of Zika virus in Rhode Island. The virus is typically transmitted by a bite from an infected mosquito. However, the primary species that transmit the virus are not established in Rhode Island. Zika can also be transmitted by blood and semen. The populations that is most impacted by Zika virus are pregnant women and women who are considering getting pregnant due to the fact that Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other birth defects.
Carolyn T. Young, MD, Chief Medical Officer at the Rhode Island Blood Center (RIBC) says, "The challenge is that 80% of people who have Zika do not have symptoms, so blood centers need to defer donors based on travel to areas with active Zika transmission or if they have had sex with a man who has recently traveled to those areas.”
Donors cannot give blood within 28 days of returning to the U.S. from an area with active Zika transmission. Female donors are deferred for three months if they have had sexual contact with a male who recently (within 3 months) had a Zika infection or was in an area with active Zika transmission.
Symptoms of Zika infection may include joint and muscle aches, fever, conjunctivitis (pink eye), rash, and headache. For more about Zika and blood donation, including dos and don'ts of donating, as well as links to the Center for Disease Control's most current list of Zika transmission areas, visit ribc.org.
If you have questions about Zika and blood donation, call the Rhode Island Blood Center's donor education staff at 401-453-8307. They can answer specific questions confidentially.