Zika has Canadian officials weighing blood donation restrictions
In light of growing international concern about the threat of the spreading Zika virus, Canada’s health minister says she expects blood donation agencies to consider changes to their policies.
Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters in Ottawa Thursday, that she is in discussions with Hema-Quebec and Canadian Blood Services about “whether they need to make some changes.”
Philpott also reiterated that Canadians planning to travel internationally should consult the warning on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website. The warning states, in part, that pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should discuss their travel plans with health care providers, and those who travel to certain countries should avoid mosquito bites.
Philpott noted that all three cases reported in Canada were acquired outside of the country, and that risk of the mosquito-borne virus spreading locally is low.
Philpott also noted that Canada has an ability to test for the virus at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
Dr. Dana Devine, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer for Canadian Blood Services, says her agency is already considering steps to ensure the virus doesn’t enter Canada’s blood supply.
“We’re looking at our current travel deferrals with an eye toward expanding the travel deferral for blood donation to do a better job of covering potential Zika-affected areas,” Devine told CTV News Channel earlier on Thursday.
She said her group is discussing donation deferrals with Hema-Quebec to determine “exactly what the appropriate deferral period will look like.”
Devine said the agency currently has no way to test for the presence of the Zika virus in blood.
“So the only thing that we can do to add additional layers of protection to the blood supply is to defer donors who have been to areas where there is Zika virus,” she said.
The Zika virus is transmitted by a species of daytime mosquito called Aedes aegypti, and has spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas in the last year. It has also been found in French Polynesia.
Since it began spreading, Zika has been linked to a sudden increase in microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with undeveloped brains. It’s also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system.
According to a report, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering temporarily halting blood donations from people who have recently travelled to regions where Zika is now circulating.
Devine said she believes the risk of Zika transmission through blood is quite remote. She said she knows of only one documented case. But she added the virus has not been studied enough to have answers to questions about blood transmission.