Been to Mexico lately? Hold off on giving blood

Posted at 11:12 AM, Feb 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-04 16:52:57-05

SAN DIEGO - Blood donation agencies are requiring people who’ve traveled to Mexico recently to wait four weeks before they can donate blood, a requirement that comes in response to the Zika virus.

The Red Cross and the San Diego Blood Bank are requiring that anyone who has traveled to Latin America – which includes Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean – to wait 28 days before donating blood.

Furthermore, anyone who donates blood but shows symptoms of Zika within 14 days of donation must contact the Red Cross or San Diego blood bank immediately.

The Zika virus is linked to brain deformities in babies and is causing concern among public health officials worldwide. The virus is primarily spread through mosquito bites, but investigators had been exploring the possibility it could be sexually transmitted.

U.S. health officials say a person in Texas became infected with Zika through sex in the first case of the illness being transmitted within the United States.

A U.S. travel alert has been issued for 30 destinations because of the Zika virus.

Health officials Wednesday added Jamaica and Tonga in the South Pacific to the list of places with outbreaks where travelers should protect themselves against the mosquito-borne virus.

Most of them in Latin America or the Caribbean. The government recommends that pregnant women postpone trips to those destinations because of a suspected link between the virus and a birth defect, seen mostly in Brazil.

The Red Cross issued the following statement Thursday:

"The American Red Cross is dedicated to providing the safest, most reliable blood products possible to patients in need.

We are closely monitoring the spread of Zika virus. As a precaution, the Red Cross will be working as quickly as possible to implement a self-deferral for blood donors who have traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central or South America within 28 days prior to presenting to donate. We will also ask that if a donor does donate and subsequently develops symptoms consistent with Zika virus infection within 14 days of that donation, that he or she immediately notify the Red Cross so that we can quarantine the product. The Red Cross and other U.S. blood collection agencies continue to work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health departments to track Zika and to update donor eligibility criteria as necessary.

The Red Cross continues to use safety measures to protect the blood supply from Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses. The risk of contracting Zika by blood transfusion in the continental U.S. is believed to be extremely low due to the absence of local mosquito transmission. As part of our current health screening process, we only collect blood from donors who are healthy and feeling well at the time of donation. We also provide a call back number if the donor develops any symptoms of disease within the next several days following donation. Donations from such donors are not used for transfusion.

Donating blood is a safe process and people should not hesitate to give or receive blood."