Bioethics Blogs

Testing Donated Blood for Zika: Politics or Prudence?

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

The FDA has announced that within the next 3 months, all donated blood in the United States should be screened for Zika virus. Puerto Rico and Florida are already conducting such screening. In the next four weeks, 11 more states should be screening (Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina and Texas) followed by nationwide testing within the next 3 months. The goal is to have a safe and trusted blood supply.

Although on this surface this looks like a preventive public health move, it is a political one. Consider that there have been 8,000 documented cases of Zika in the U.S. with only 2,000 of them locally acquired (meaning no history of travel to a country with Zika). Most of the local cases are in Puerto Rico. Eighty percent of those infected never have symptoms.

The emphasis seems to be more on trust than it is on safety. Only 1/3 of the 15 countries that reported confirmed infections have reported transmission through sexual contact. This could mean either that other countries aren’t aware or aren’t reporting, or that such transmission is only happening among certain strains of the virus. The FDA announcement, however, is aimed at protecting the blood supply. And data for blood transmission is also lacking, whether a lack of awareness or reporting. In fact, according to the CDC, Brazil is the only country that has seen any Zika in its blood supply. During the original French Polynesian outbreak, 2.8% of blood donors tested positive.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.