FDA eases blood-screening rules for Zika, citing drop in cases

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday it will no longer require U.S. blood banks to test individual donations for the Zika virus, citing a sharp decrease in reported cases.

Agency officials ordered states to test each donation for the virus in August 2016, as the mosquito-borne illness tore through the Americas, sparking fears of birth defects in infants born to infected mothers.

The FDA says blood banks should still check their supplies for Zika, though they can use donations that have been pooled together instead of going one by one, which is more time-consuming.

“Given the significant decrease in cases of Zika virus infection in the U.S. and its territories, we are moving away from testing each individual donation to testing pooled donations. This is usually more cost effective and less burdensome for blood establishments,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Zika virus caused a global health scare a few years ago, after scientists linked an outbreak in Brazil and other Latin American countries to an alarming numbers of babies born with abnormally small heads, or “microcephaly.”

The problem was especially acute in Puerto Rico, where mosquito-borne transmission was rampant and sparked tens of thousands of infections.

Yet it was mainly a travel-related problem in the continental U.S., with several thousand such cases in 2016.

Florida reported over 200 cases of locally transmitted Zika, mainly around Miami, and Texas saw a handful of cases near the Mexican border.

Since then, the disease appears to have largely burned out in the Americas — at least for now — after large swaths of the population gained immunity to the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that as of Tuesday, there have only been 28 travel-related cases and zero cases through bug bite within the continental U.S. in 2018.

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