NJ hospitals turning away blood donors at risk for Zika virus
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued guidelines for preventing the contraction and spread of the Zika virus throughout the country. Hospitals and health systems across New Jersey are now doing their part to comply with the new regulations.
While Zika has not yet been transmitted within the U.S., Christia Keyte, supervisor for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Somerset Blood Services, said the virus is "fairly widespread" in the Caribbean, Mexico and South America. As a result, her facility is seeing quite a few people who have traveled outside the country, and pose a risk when they return.
"We are seeing some donors who come in who are not able to donate, because they have been in a place of travel where Zika has been transmitted," she said, adding RWJUH is anticipating more cases as the weather gets warmer.
Keyte said the hospital is abiding by the FDA guidelines by adding a Zika-based question to its list of inquiries before a person donates blood. These questions normally deal with a person's health history as well as travel history. RWJUH is also providing extra literature to prospective donors, about "symptoms that a person might have if they had come down with Zika, as well as the places of travel where they may have gone where Zika can be transmitted."
Even though demand for blood is always greater than the supply, according to Keyte, there is not a severe blood shortage at this time. Still, hospitals are hardly relaxing when it comes to combating Zika. At RWJUH, anyone possibly exposed to the virus is asked to wait four weeks before donating.
"We've probably seen maybe, I think, about 2 percent of our donors who we've had to ask to wait," Keyte said. "If they know they are going to travel, maybe they can come and donate before they go away."
On Wednesday, the FDA announced an experimental blood test to screen for the Zika virus would be allowed in U.S. territories, like Puerto Rico, with active Zika infections. That's being viewed as an emergency precaution to protect local blood supplies from contamination. Use of the test could be expanded if Zika starts to spread throughout the U.S. mainland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Patrick Lavery is a news producer, reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.