FDA asks blood centers in South Florida to stop donations immediately

Published: Jul. 29, 2016 at 1:27 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2016 at 1:46 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The FDA is asking blood centers in two Florida counties to stop accepting donations immediately. That's because health officials in Miami-Dade and Broward County are now investigating what may be the first Zika cases that came from mosquitoes in the U.S.

"We all recognize the potential for local spread so this is something that we have planned for," said Dr. Frank Welch with the Louisiana Department of Health.

So far there's been 14 travel-related Zika cases in Louisiana, but no confirmed cases of a patient contracting the virus locally. Welch said the state is prepared should that happen. He said there's already a screening process underway to protect our blood supply that involves asking donors where they've traveled to recently.

"That really is one of the most effective protections for our blood supply. If you come from the Americas, wait 28 days to donate blood. You can screen out easily 95-96 percent in that way, and then if we have that extra added protection to do the laboratory testing, it just gives us that extra degree of reassurance," said Welch.

We also talked with The Blood Center in New Orleans.

"The blood supply out here is still safe. What I like to tell people is that in order to continue to have a safe and stable blood supply we need people to come in now. If there is an emergency out here, it's going to be the blood that's on the shelf the days before that's going to be used," said The Blood Center spokesman Paul Adams.

Dr. Dawn Wesson is an associate professor of Tropical Medicine at Tulane University. She said she's not surprised by the FDA's request.

"When West Nile was first introduced into the U.S. and we started to see a lot of human cases, the FDA did the same thing, and until they're able to get a test up to test the blood and detect whether there's virus there, they'll do this in areas where they have concerns about transmission." 
And, if there's a local outbreak, Welch said Louisiana will also stop blood donations.

"This prohibition on collecting blood during local transmission is also part of the Louisiana plan. If we see that local transmission is occurring in an area we are also going to stop blood donations for that time period and you know work with our network and team of blood centers throughout the country to get blood from somewhere else," said Welch.

Adams said they're planning to start testing for the Zika virus at their lab by mid-September. If there was a local outbreak before then, he said they would send their blood to Houston for testing. He added that there is a critical need for blood donations here, especially if you're O-negative.

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