Testing donated blood for the West Nile virus

Monday, June 30th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Starting Tuesday, blood banks across the country will start testing donated blood for the West Nile virus. The Food and Drug Administration wants all blood tested to detect possible exposure to the mosquito-born virus.

News on 6 reporter Patrina Adger visited Tulsa’s Red Cross, where testing has already begun.

Al Alexander is giving blood for the 30th time. He donates at Tulsa's American Red Cross every two to three months. “I had some people who were injured in an auto accident and needed blood, I can help somebody else, and that’s what I do.” And for the past ten years, every time he rolls up his sleeves, he saves three lives. The Red Cross and blood banks across the country want to continue helping people do that.

Starting July 1st, folks like Alexander who donate blood will have it tested for the West Nile virus. Mei-Chien Fucci, Medical Director: "West Nile virus can be transmitted by blood, transfusions as well as organ transplant patient-being transmitted to the recipient." Fucci says last year four people received organs from a donor who had West Nile. Three out of the four recipients had symptoms of the virus. One person died from it.

She says 80% of individuals infected often don't show symptoms, so this investigational new drug used to test the virus will hopefully catch those people who are not ill but are infected and carrying the virus. The test is done concurrently with the tests they do for HIV and Hepatitis C.

The blood donated here in Tulsa goes to a national testing laboratory in St. Louis.

So far, the CDC has not reported any cases of the mosquito born virus in Oklahoma, which is good news to the Red Cross who is always looking for donors, like Alexander who plans to give blood. "Probably as long as I'll be around or until I can't give no more."

For more information on how to give blood, call the American Red Cross at 1-800-GIVE LIFE.