Updated: Zika virus and the safety of New Zealand's blood supply

Serious international concern continues to exist 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. 

There is increasing evidence to indicate that Zika virus can be passed on by transfusion. Blood Services internationally have therefore taken steps to prevent this occurring.

Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes that have acquired the virus from another person who is infected with the virus.  Zika virus is 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 provided a high level of protection from the risk of transmission of other mosquito-borne infections, including Zika virus. 

In response to increasing concerns of sexual transmission of Zika virus and increased understanding of the national history of Zika virus infection, new measures have been implemented as of 28 November 2016.

UPDATED MEASURE:

1)    Male and female donors will be deferred for 28 days from the last sexual contact with a sexual partner who –

  1. has been diagnosed with Zika virus infection in the past 6 months, or
  2. is suspected, or awaiting the outcome of tests, of having Zika virus infection in the previous 6 months.

2)    After travelling to a country with possible risk of Zika infection, if a donor has been unwell during their stay in the country or within 4 weeks of leaving the country experienced symptoms such as high fever, headache, joint pain, body pain, conjunctivitis and/or rash, they must wait 4 months after leaving the country or complete recovery (whichever is the later) before they give blood.

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

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