Oklahoma starts blood testing for West Nile virus

Thursday, June 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma has become one of the first states in the nation to test donated blood for the West Nile virus.

American Red Cross Services' Southwest region started testing Monday because of reported cases of the mosquito-borne virus in Texas. The Southwest region, headquartered in Tulsa, includes Texas collection sites in Dallas, Waco, Wichita Falls, College Station and Harlingen.

Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Blood Institute also has begun testing.

More than 1,000 units of blood are collected daily by the two organizations.

Other blood collection centers across the nation are expected to begin testing in July or August, Oklahoma officials said.

Before 2002, it was believed the virus was transmitted to humans only by infected mosquitoes. But investigations identified blood transfusions as a method of transmitting the virus in some infections.

Officials said it is impossible to contract the virus by donating blood.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute, providing blood supplies to patients in 92 hospitals and 40 out-patient transfusion centers, will be the first regional blood center in the nation to use ``single-unit nucleic acid testing'' to detect West Nile, which is considered the most sensitive testing available, said Ronald O. Gilcher, Oklahoma Blood Institute president.

Single-unit testing adds $12 per unit to the cost of blood and blood products. Costs will be passed on by hospitals to the patients and medical insurance companies.

The Red Cross is using a less-expensive test that takes samples from 16 units of donated blood. If West Nile is found in the pool of blood samples, each donated unit is given its own test to pinpoint which donor is infected with the virus.

Units of blood found to have the virus will be destroyed, and the donor will be notified to seek treatment.