Blood donors are going to be asked a new question when they show up to donate at San Antonio’s South Texas Blood and Tissue Center. “Do you agree to be tested for the Zika virus?”
It’s not a question of if, but when the Zika virus comes to San Antonio. So says Dr. Samantha Gomez, Associate Medical Director of the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center. "80 percent of those who are infected are feeling well and healthy," Gomez explained. " So you want to make sure that blood does not get into our blood supply. We want to make sure that our patients are safe and unborn babies are safe."
The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center already tests donated blood for 14 infectious diseases, from HIV to Hepatitis C. Those tests are performed on site in San Antonio. Zika testing will be performed on small vials sent to Atlanta. It’s a public health concern because Zika can be transmitted through blood or sexual contact.
74-year-old regular blood donor Richard LaPere of San Antonio says for him, agreeing to have his blood tested for Zika virus was a no-brainer.
"I think it’s extremely important because of the birth defects that are occurring with that infection. It’s pretty horrible," LaPere said. "So everybody should be participating. So everybody should be participating if they’re giving blood."
Rigby: San Antonio’s blood center is one of only a handful of donor sites using this investigational testing. The FDA requires donors to consent to be part of the study. Those with positive results will get a letter in the mail and will be advised to consult with their own physicians.
While Zika testing will add to the price of blood for hospitals, Gomez said it is a small cost compared to the million of dollars it takes to care for babies with abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly, that can occur in children born to Zika-infected mothers.