UPDATE: Zika virus and the safety of New Zealand’s blood supply

Serious international concern exists around the Zika epidemic. The concern has arisen from two possible complications of Zika infection. Permanent fetal brain injury which results in severe microcephaly in some babies and a number of adults developing the neurological disease - Guillain-Barre syndrome, which causes paralysis.  These issues have led to questions about the risk of Zika infection being transmitted by blood donated in New Zealand.

Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes that have acquired the virus from another person who is infected with the virus.  Zika virus is currently spreading in countries where dengue, chikungunya and other mosquito-borne infections are known to occur. Zika infection has many features similar to dengue and chikungunya infections.

New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) introduced measures in November 2014 to protect the blood supply from the risk of transmission of dengue and chikungunya infections. The measures also provide a high level of protection from the risk of transmission of other mosquito-borne infections, including Zika virus.

The measures involve deferral of donors from giving blood for 28 days after leaving a country where dengue, or chikungunya are present; or following complete recovery if the donor was unwell during or after the period of travel to these areas.

Donors are able to use the ‘Donating after travelling tool’ on this website, following travel overseas, to determine their eligibility prior to presenting at a blood donation centre or blood drive.

In response to increasing concerns of sexual transmission of Zika virus, a new measure was implemented on Tuesday 29th March.

NEW MEASURE: Female donors will be deferred for 28 days from the last sexual contact with a male sexual partner who –

  1. has been diagnosed with Zika virus infection in the past 3 months, or
  2. is suspected, or awaiting the outcome of tests, of having Zika virus infection in the previous 3 months.

All donors are routinely asked to tell us their recent travel history at each donation to assess their blood donor eligibility, and female donors will also now be prompted to assess their potential risk related to sexual transmission of Zika virus.

The additional measure will continue to provide a high level of protection against passing Zika virus to patients by blood transfusion.

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