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Red Cross: Blood Donors should Wait 28 Days after Traveling to Zika Areas

Update Date: Feb 04, 2016 10:31 AM EST

The American Red Cross has issued new blood donation guidelines for people who have traveled to areas where Zika, a virus that can be transmitted via a mosquito bite, has been confirmed.

Health officials are now asking blood donors to implement a self-deferral period of at least 28 days if they have visited Latin America or the Caribbean. People who have symptoms of a Zika infection, which include a mild fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes), should inform the Red Cross within two weeks. In about 80 percent of Zika cases, symptoms will not show up, which is why it is important to wait the full 28 days before donating.

"The American Red Cross is dedicated to providing the safest, most reliable blood products possible to patients in need," said Susan Stramer, vice president of scientific affairs at the American Red Cross. "The Red Cross continues to use safety measures to protect the blood supply from Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses."

The Red Cross has cautioned people that risk of infection through blood is extremely low in the U.S, especially since the virus has not been confirmed within the states. The Red Cross also reassured the public that they only take blood from people who are "healthy and feeling well at the time of donation."

The Canadian Blood Services has also issued similar guidelines, stating that people who have traveled to areas that do not include Canada, Europe and the continental U.S., should wait 21 days before donating. The United Kingdom's National Health Service is also recommending donors who have traveled to a Zika area to wait 28-days.

"The safety of the blood supply is paramount and it is important we implement any precautionary blood safety measures agreed here as a result of an increasing prevalence of infectious diseases found around the globe," The NHS Blood and Transplant spokesman said in a statement.

The American Association of Blood Banks, which issued a statement saying that the virus does not last in the blood for more than 28 days, noted that the new voluntary guidelines should lower the summer blood supply by 1.17 percent and the winter blood supply by 2.27 percent.

Blood banks currently test for several diseases, which include HIV, hepatitis, West Nile virus and the malaria parasite.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a public health emergency due to the association between the virus and microcephaly, which is a birth defect that occurs when an infant is born with an abnormally small head. Although researchers have not found a cause-and-effect relationship, they stated that the evidence so far points to a strong link between the two.

Countries and territories that have confirmed cases of Zika are: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guinea, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, U.S. Virgin Islands, Venezuela, American Samoa and Samoa.

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