Transfusion medicine

Precautions will keep blood supplies safe from emerging disease threats

Existing precautions to ensure the safety of blood products in Australia are sufficient – at present – to protect the supply against emerging diseases such as hepatitis E and Zika infection, an Australian.

Speaking during an ANZSBT session on product safety at Blood 2018 in Brisbane on 24 October, Dr Helen Faddy said that current management options such as deferring donations from returned travellers to endemic areas were adequate given the low risk of emerging bloodborne diseases.

Dr Faddy, a senior research fellow in research and development at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, said that other strategies such as donation testing could be introduced if the risk increased significantly.

She said hepatitis E viraemia in Australia was estimated to be a very low, with a rate around 1 in 74,131.

“Risk modelling suggested we accept the risk as negligible but not zero,” she said.

Hepatitis E is a notifiable disease reported mostly in NSW and Victoria in people returning from endemic areas such as Nepal and Bangladesh, she noted.

However some transmission locally was probably already happening given the disease could be asymptomatic.

Genotypes 1 and 2 were typically transmitted in humans via the faecal-oral route while genotypes 3 and 4 were zoonotic diseases transmitted by eating undercooked pork.

Dr Faddy said an assessment of the risk of transfusion-related transmission of the Zika arbovirus found similar results.

Only 81 cases have been reported locally but Zika cases were likely to be underreported given the often-mild disease.

She said transmission was theoretically possible in summer in northern parts of Australia. Again, routine deferral of blood donations from returned travellers was sufficient given the low risk.

The Red Cross Blood Service would, however, continue to monitor the risk of transfusion-related transmission of the viruses.

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