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NHLBI expands blood transfusion safety study to include Zika virus

For Immediate Release:
March 17, 2016

WHAT: In response to growing concerns over the mosquito-borne Zika virus, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, has expanded a study in Brazil to see if Zika virus poses a threat to the blood supply. This blood safety study -- which originally focused on another emerging mosquito-borne virus, chikungunya virus -- will help determine if Zika virus can be transmitted through transfusion.

The study is part of a larger international research program -- The Recipient Epidemiology and Donor Evaluation Study III (REDS-III) -- aimed at improving blood transfusion benefits and reducing associated risks. Zika virus, once mainly seen in parts of Asia and Africa, has recently been introduced into the Americas and has rapidly spread, particularly in South America infecting hundreds of thousands. The virus has been tentatively linked to birth defects and neurological disease and could continue its spread toward the United States. There is growing concern over the possibility that the Zika virus could be transmitted through blood transfusions. The Zika virus has been identified in blood and people infected with the virus infection may not show any symptoms. There is a risk a person who unknowingly carries the virus could donate blood, which potentially threatens the blood supply. There is currently no blood screening test available to screen the blood supply for the virus.

Within the REDS-III program, Blood Systems Research Institute in San Francisco is working with the Fundação Faculdade de Medicina and Hospital das Clinicas of the Medical School of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. This study plans to enroll up to 3,500 hospital patients receiving blood transfusions in April-May of 2016 and January-June of 2017. The study is examining dengue virus, in addition to Zika and chikungunya. A new research test to simultaneously check for Zika, chikungunya, and dengue is being developed in the US and is expected to be ready for research use by this summer. The Brazil study will collect blood samples in recipients before and after transfusions. The blood samples will then be tested for direct evidence of Zika, chikungunya, and dengue virus using the new research test. Participants will also be evaluated for symptoms that could be caused by these viral infections.

WHO: Simone Glynn, Branch Chief, Blood Epidemiology and Clinical Therapeutics Branch, NHLBI, NIH, is available to comment on REDS-III and the study being expanded to include Zika virus.

CONTACT: For more information, to attend or cover the event, or to schedule an interview, please contact the NHLBI Office of Science Policy, Engagement, Education, and Communications at 301-496-4236 or nhlbi_news@nhlbi.nih.gov.