Four transplant recipients in Florida and Georgia have been diagnosed or suspected of being contaminated with West Nile Virus.
Federal health officials are looking into the possibility of infected organ donations or blood transfusions.
Researchers have yet to discover a rapid test to screen organ and blood donors for the West Nile virus. They say it will take months before a reliable test can be developed. Until that time, blood donors and recipients are at the risk of potential exposure to this virus when receiving a transfusion or transplant.
If it is determined that transfusions and organ donations can indeed transmit West Nile, blood banks will have to request a history of mosquito bites from their donors. According to researchers, this would dramatically reduce the number of blood donors and worsen the already serious blood shortage.
The New York area takes in blood supplies from Europe and other parts in the U.S., areas that have been greatly affected by West Nile this year.
Health officials had to ask blood banks to exclude donors living in England or other foreign countries which have experienced mad cow disease. This has depleted New York City’s blood supply by 25 percent this summer.
Medical officials said the risk of infected blood or organs is a small one for anyone in dire need of a new organ or blood. The risk is relatively low (one to two cases per 10,000 transfusions), and about 13 million units of blood are collected in the United States each year.
About three weeks ago, health officials reminded the nation’s blood banks to reject donations from patients exhibiting potential symptoms of West Nile encephalitis, including fever and flu like symptoms. However, this may not be ample protection.
While tests are in the works for the screening of blood and organ donations, doctors said that to guard against every risk would leave the area with no blood supply.
This year, the United States is in the midst of the worst West Nile outbreak to date, with 638 cases that include 31 deaths.
Blood banks in and around New York are asking anyone who can to donate blood.