Zika virus: Canadian Blood Services looking at donation policy
Michael Shulman, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, January 27, 2016 10:06PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 27, 2016 11:23PM EST
Canadian Blood Services isn't ruling out changes to its blood-donation policy amid a report that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will temporarily stop accepting blood from people who have recently travelled to regions affected by the Zika virus.
A spokesperson for the U.S. federal agency told Bloomberg that it is working with other government agencies to implement "donor-deferral measures" for travellers who have returned to the U.S. to protect the country's "blood supply."
When asked about the FDA's move, CBS said it is "carefully monitoring" the issue, but there is no "yes-or-no answer at this time." However, the organization says it considering revision to its travel deferrals.
“We are carefully monitoring the zika virus issue and are considering revisions to our travel deferral policies in order to protect the Canadian blood supply from the threat of this virus,” Dr. Dana Devine, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer for Canadian Blood Services, said in a statement to CTV News.
Health authorities around the world have been ramping up precautions against the spread of the virus after it was linked to a surge of birth defects in pregnant women that have been rapidly spreading in parts of Latin America.
Earlier this month, Public Health Agency of Canada recommended that women travelling to regions affected by the Zika virus should meet with their doctor and consider postponing their plans.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offered similar advice, issuing a total of 22 travel alerts, most for destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean, where there have been outbreaks of the virus.
Meanwhile officials in El Salvador, Colombia and Brazil have suggested that women should stop getting pregnant altogether until the crisis has passed.
The Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, has been native to parts of Africa and Asia for years, but was found in Brazil last May.
It is typically considered a mild illness that leaves sufferers with symptoms such as a fever, rash, red eyes and joint pain for several days to a week.
But in November 2015, a Brazilian investigation found an average 20-fold increase in the incidence of microcephaly -- or abnormal smallness of the head -- among newborns in areas where the virus was known to be prevalent.
However, the World Health Organization and others have stressed that the connection between the Zika virus and the birth defects is circumstantial and has not yet been proven scientifically.
Meanwhile, with the summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro nearly six months away, the Canadian Olympic Committee is making preparations for Canadian athletes.
Despite growing anxiety in the region and abroad, Dr. Bob McCormack, the chief medical officer for the COC, expects the Zika virus will be "less of an issue than it is currently" at the time of the games.
"This is the peak time of year for mosquitoes in Brazil in the southern hemisphere," said McCormack.
"We're going to be going down in what is effectively their winter, still a potential problem, but less of an issue than it will be right at the moment."
In fact, he said that dengue fever, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes, poses a greater risk to athletes because "they're not actually getting pregnant when they're competing."
"Dengue is something that can make you sicker than the Zika virus, and most people really don’t have any symptoms at all," he said.
McCormack said the "bigger concern" surrounds the risk facing coaches and support staff, who are more likely to be pregnant.
However, McCormack said he is worried about Canadian athletes who are currently heading to Brazil for test events, which wrap up in May.
"Our recommendations have been that if an athlete is pregnant that they will probably not travel and that they not get pregnant when they first come back," he said.
McCormack said that the COC is primarily pushing for athletes to take preventative measures, such as wearing protective clothing, using mosquito netting, wearing insect repellant and reporting any relevant symptoms when they come home.
McCormack said the COC will continue to monitor the situation, and will provide athletes headed to the Olympics with insect repellant and maybe mosquito netting "if there's a need."
He added that housing in the Olympic village is air-conditioned, which means athletes can close their windows and prevents them from being bitten while they're asleep.
With files from CTV’s Peter Akman and The Associated Press