Brazil confirms blood-transfusion Zika; PAHO calls for global support

Blood donation
Blood donation

Dominic Chavez / World Bank / Flickr cc

Brazilian health officials today confirmed the first known cases of Zika infection from blood transfusions, a day after the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) put out a call for more international help in battling the outbreak.

In other developments, Dallas officials issued a follow-up on a recent sexual transmission case, groups announced new research pushes, and Florida declared a public health emergency to better help some of its counties prepare.

Transfusions occurred before outbreak

Brazilian officials reported two transfusion-linked Zika cases, Reuters reported today. The first was in a man who received blood from a transfusion in March 2015. Marcelo Addas Carvalho, director of the Blood Center at the Sao Paulo state University of Campinas, said genetic testing confirmed that the man became infected with Zika virus but did not develop symptoms.

The second transfusion-linked case involves a man who received several transfusions for gunshot wounds last April, according to the health department in Campinas, a city about 60 miles northwest of Sao Paulo. The timing of both men's transfusions was before Brazil's outbreak began in May.

Brazil's health ministry said the second man died of his wounds, not from his Zika infection, adding that it was unlikely that he contracted the virus from a mosquito because he was in an intensive care unit for 3 months.

"The two cases can be considered transmission of the virus through blood transfusion, with greater certainty in the first because we did genetic sequencing comparing the virus in the donor and to the virus in the recipient," Carvalho told Reuters.

The health ministry said it has reminded blood donation centers that those infected with Zika or dengue shouldn't give blood for 30 days after recovery from an active infection.

The cases underscore recent advice from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention that blood safety officials consider deferrals for donors who have histories of travel to active Zika transmission areas.

The American Red Cross yesterday asked donors returning from Zika-hit countries to postpone giving blood for at least 28 days, and Canadian Blood Services yesterday announced a temporary 21-day deferral period for anyone who has traveled outside of Canada or the continental United States or Europe.

PAHO seeks $8.5 million from global community

PAHO's request for help in responding to the Zika virus threat came at a health ministers' meeting yesterday in Montevideo, Uruguay, that was convened by the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), according to a PAHO statement.

PAHO director Carissa Etienne, MD, said all countries in the Americas need to target more resources toward mosquito control, preparing their health services to meet increased demand; conduct public education campaigns; and enhance surveillance to track the spread of the virus and its complications.

"This work will require tangible and explicit support from the highest political levels," she told the group.

Afterward at a media briefing, Etienne announced a new PAHO strategy to help countries respond to the Zika virus, which she said will need an initial $8.5 million commitment from the global community for its implementation.

Sexual transmission update

In a follow-up on its Feb 2 announcement of a sexually transmitted Zika virus case, Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) today said both patients have recovered and have been urged to follow up with their doctors.

The investigation into the cases, which is now complete, included mosquito surveillance near the patients' home, which turned up no mosquito vector activity, the DCHHS said.

In a health advisory earlier this week, the DCHHS said one of the patients got sick after recent travel to an affected South American country and that the second patient had not traveled, but came down with symptoms after sexual contact with the traveler. It added that there was no risk to a developing fetus.

The DCHHS recommended that clinicians consider Zika virus infection in patients without a compatible travel history who report unprotected sexual contact within 2 weeks with a person whose symptoms and travel history fit the pattern.

More research initiatives

Meanwhile, two more groups—the UK government and Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceutical Company—announced Zika-related research efforts, one involving a vaccine:.

The UK Medical Research Council (MRC) yesterday announced a "Rapid Response" call for research applications to fast-track Zika virus research, with an initial $1.45 million in grants. It also said other projects are under way with collaborators in Brazil to explore several topics, including host response, viral features, epidemiology, and immune system response.

And officials from Takeda said yesterday that the company put together an eight-member team to look at the possibility of developing a vaccine against Zika, based on requests from international health experts, Japan Today reported.

Takeda is already working on a vaccine against the dengue virus, another member of the flavivirus family.

Florida emergency declaration

In other developments, Florida Governor Rick Scott yesterday signed an executive order declaring a public health emergency for four counties that have reported travel-linked Zika virus cases: Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee, and Santa Rosa.

Scott said even though the cases are travel related, the emergency declaration helps ensure that Florida is prepared and stays ahead of the virus. The action also paves the way for mosquito spraying, especially in residential areas, he said.

See also:

Feb 3 Reuters story

Feb 3 CIDRAP News story "Zika outbreaks alter Red Cross blood donor protocol"

Feb 3 Canadian Blood Services statement

Feb 3 PAHO press release

Feb 4 DCHHS statement

Feb 2 CIDRAP News story "Sexual transmission of Zika confirmed in Texas"

Feb 2 DCHHS health advisory

Feb 3 UK MRC press release

Feb 3 Florida governor's office press release

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