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Oklahoma Blood Institute to be West Nile testing site

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The manufacturer of a device that screens donated blood for the West Nile virus has chosen the Oklahoma Blood Institute as one of five testing sites.

The blood institute is the largest individual-donor testing site in the United States, a spokeswoman for California-based Gen-Probe and Chiron, which makes the Tigris machine and system, said Wednesday.

"This is one more step in supplying the safest blood ... that we can provide to hospitals and their patients," Dr. Jim Smith, blood institute associate medical director, said of the machine that arrived Monday for clinical trials at the institute's laboratory.

The Tigris is more efficient and more effective than manual methods, Smith said.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute was chosen because it tests every unit of blood sent to 92 hospitals and 40 outpatient transfusion centers in Oklahoma, Smith said.

The blood institute provides blood and blood products to more than 90 hospitals and processes as many as 800 pints of blood a day, six days a week, Smith said.

The new automated system will start processing blood for the West Nile virus Oct. 4.

Most West Nile virus cases are spread by Culex mosquitoes, but the virus can be transmitted by blood transfusions used in heart surgery, trauma cases, organ transplants and chemotherapy.

In 2002, a 71-year-old Tulsa County man acquired the West Nile virus from a transfusion of contaminated blood at a Houston hospital. His death was Oklahoma's first from the virus.

Also that year, 23 cases of West Nile virus transmissions through contaminated blood products were confirmed in the United States, including one other Oklahoman who didn't die from the disease.

A 71-year-old Nowata County man died from West Nile virus on Aug. 4, but a state Health Department official said the department thinks an infected Culex mosquito bit him.

Oklahoma's unusually wet, cool summer may have helped keep the number of West Nile virus cases down, state health authorities said.

Steady rains washed away potential Culex mosquito-breeding grounds and cooler temperatures slowed Culex breeding cycles, said state Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley and Rick Grantham, director of Oklahoma State University's insect diagnostic laboratory in Stillwater.

The Culex mosquito carries the West Nile virus. Floodwater mosquitoes, which thrive after rains, don't spread the virus, Bradley said.

The new machine at OBI cuts in half the time it takes the current manual system to check for West Nile and other dangerous viruses, Smith said.

In the future, Tigris also can be used to test for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis, he said.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute can use the machine without charge during the clinical-trial period for Gen-Probe and Chiron. U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval is expected in about a year, Smith said.

If proven successful, the machine would cost more than $1 million, Smith said, although savings will be realized over the manual system now used at the laboratory.
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