The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today announced that it is arranging and funding shipments of blood products from the continental United States to Puerto Rico to ensure an adequate supply of safe blood for island residents as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico experiences active mosquito-borne Zika transmission. The first batch of blood products arrived in Puerto Rico on Saturday, March 5.
In the absence of special measures to screen for infection or reduce pathogens, the risk of Zika virus transmission through blood products is considered likely based on the most current scientific evidence of how Zika virus and similar viruses (flaviviruses) are spread, and what is currently being reported about transfusion-associated infection occurring outside of the United States. Blood products shipped to Puerto Rico will be collected from areas in the continental United States without active transmission of Zika virus so that blood products used in Puerto Rico can meet all of the same high safety standards as those used elsewhere in the United States.
The shipments are being provided to Puerto Rico through the American Red Cross, the Blood Centers of America, and America’s Blood Centers. Existing blood collection centers in Puerto Rico will then supply that imported blood to transfusion providers.
“Availability of safe blood products for the residents of Puerto Rico is a major priority for HHS,” said Karen B. DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc., HHS acting assistant secretary for health. “We are arranging the importation of blood products from areas unaffected by local Zika transmission to ensure the safety of Puerto Rico’s blood supply."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that whole blood and blood components for transfusion be obtained from areas of the United States without active transmission of Zika virus until a blood donor screening test or pathogen reduction technology (where applicable) for Zika virus becomes available. Blood establishments may continue collecting and preparing platelets and plasma if an FDA-approved, pathogen-reduction device is used. Once a blood donor screening test becomes available and is implemented, blood establishments in Puerto Rico will be able to resume routine collection of blood and blood components.
Although an FDA-licensed blood donor screening test and pathogen reduction technology for whole blood and red blood cells are not currently available, facilitating the availability of such a test or technology is a top priority for HHS. A number of HHS components, including the FDA, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)/Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working actively with product manufacturers to develop blood donor screening tests and additional pathogen reduction technologies to help protect the nation’s supply of blood and blood components during this outbreak.
The Administration has submitted a $1.9 billion emergency funding request to Congress to respond to the Zika virus both domestically and internationally. Funding requested for ASPR/BARDA, FDA, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will accelerate the development of blood donor screening tests, additional pathogen reduction technology, as well as other potential therapies.