WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration on Friday recommended that all donated blood be tested for the Zika virus.
The announcement reflects concerns that the virus, transmitted mainly through mosquitoes, could also spread through the US blood supply.
“There is still much uncertainty regarding the nature and extent of Zika virus transmission,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “At this time, the recommendation for testing the entire blood supply will help ensure that safe blood is available for all individuals who might need transfusion.”
The agency had recommended in February that donation centers in areas with active Zika transmission screen blood for the virus. Since then, local transmission of the virus has been reported in the Miami area, and the number of travel-related cases of Zika has risen sharply.
As of Aug. 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there had been nearly 2,500 cases reported in the continental United States, most of them travel-related. US territories have reported relatively few travel-related cases but nearly 9,000 local cases, with Puerto Rico being particularly hard hit.
In March, US officials began shipping blood to the island in an effort to stem the possibility of the Zika virus spreading through blood transfusions.
Although most individuals who contract Zika show no symptoms, or only minor ones, the virus can causes severe birth defects, including a dangerously small head, and other neurological problems in infants.
This week, AABB, the Bethesda, Md.-based association of blood banks, launched its Zika Virus Bioviligance Network. The network will gather Zika testing data on blood donations and notify blood centers in the network of each reactive test result as it is received.
The group will also maintain a map on its website, showing the location of blood donors with suspected Zika infection.