Northwell Health Blood Donations to be Screened for Zika Virus

 Blood collected through Northwell Health’s four donation centers will be screened for the Zika virus, health officials announced.

The US Food and Drug Administration on August 26 warned that Zika, a mosquito-borne illness spread through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, can also be transmitted through blood transfusion and has recommended additional testing of blood and blood components nationwide.

By the end of September, all Northwell Health blood donations will undergo a nucleic acid (NAT) test to screen for Zika virus. In addition, a positive test result will kick in a 120-day “look back” investigation to determine whether the infected individual made any prior blood donations with potential risk to transmit the Zika virus, said Dr. Alexander J. Indrikovs, senior director of blood bank and transfusion medicine at Northwell Health Laboratories.

“The new testing is going to make our blood supply safer,” Dr. Indrikovs said. “The FDA has realized that Zika is a risk through blood transfusions and the questions currently asked do not capture every donor at risk for Zika.”

Northwell Health accepts blood donations at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow and Staten Island University Hospital.

Blood donations at Northwell locations are tested for transfusion transmitted infectious agents by the New York Blood Center, which said it will abide by the FDA’s guidance for Zika screening across New York to begin within a four-week span. Potential donors who travelled to regions where Zika is endemic have been turned away since February, but the new FDA recommendation goes further.

New York City saw 398 diagnosed Zika cases in the last year through July 27 – 381 of which were deemed travel-related, the state Department of Health reported. There are 95 pregnant women or infants among the infected, according to the agency.

Northwell patients who exhibit signs of the virus will also get faster diagnosis. Northwell Health Laboratories will be able to test for Zika by the end of the month, said Dr. Stefan Juretschko, medical director Northwell’s Division of Infectious Disease Diagnostics. Testing was overseen by state and New York City departments of health but recently moved to commercial labs.

“If you have symptoms and a travel history or are pregnant, then you would be able to get a blood sample done,” Dr. Juretschko. “We do the testing.”