Brazil to develop test for Zika in donor blood

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Aline Leal reports from Agência Brasil

Brazil will develop a test to detect Zika virus in blood bags for donation. The test will be similar to the nucleic acid test (NAT) used for detecting HIV and hepatitis B and C in potential donors' blood.

The study will be conducted by Bio-Manguinhos Institute, affiliated to Oswaldo Cruz foundation (FIOCRUZ), and when it will be completed is still open. “We expect this to happen soon,” said Health Minister Marcelo Castro, after a meeting at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

According to Brazilian regulations, people who have had infections—including dengue, chikungunya, Zika, or other diseases—must not give blood for 30 days of symptoms disappearance. However, in 80% of cases of Zika infection, there are no symptoms. “Many people who have had Zika are unaware they have been infected, and if they give blood this may lead to other people getting infected,” Castro explained.

The ministry's Secretary for Health Services, Alberto Beltrame, said blood samples will be taken from 300 people infected with Zika for the study. “There is no guarantee that the virus will behave the same way in all patients. So we're taking these samples to find out what the virus is like in Brazil. But as far as we know, there's only one Zika serotype,” he said.

The idea of testing donor blood bags for Zika came up during a PAHO meeting of researchers and research institutes from Brazil and the United States. According to Beltrame, the US Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have partnered with Brazil's National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) to monitor the study and speed up the process through validation of the test effectiveness and safety.

The agreement will allow them to cut years from the process, according to Beltrame. He said he hopes the new test to be available within the first half of 2016, although no deadlines have been set. Brazil has confirmed at least one case of Zika infection through blood transfusion, but this is very uncommon, according to the Brazilian Hematology, Hemotherapy, and Cell Therapy Association (ABHH).

Translated by Mayra Borges

Edited by: Luana Lourenço / Augusto Queiroz