Blood Banks Test for West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus
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Colorado hospitals are hoping a new blood test will stop the spread of West Nile virus. The new test can detect particles of the virus, instead of the body's reaction to infection. That's an improvement over the old test because antibodies can take up to 10 days to produce, which could allow tainted blood to get through.

Just last year, at least 23 people across the nation contracted West Nile Virus through blood transfusions. The 16 donors who passed along West Nile didn't get sick. It has already been confirmed in mosquitoes in Pueblo County. Magpies in Fremont, Larimer, and Crowley Counties have also tested positive for West Nile.

Now health experts hope to prevent a repeat of last year. That's when more than a dozen Coloradans were infected with the virus. Blood banks, like the one at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, will be only be doing the West Nile testing during the summer. They say it's just one of many tests they do on every unit of blood.

Barbara Clinebell has been a blood donor for years. "My father one time needed several units of blood when I was a child, so I just learned that it was important to do." And she welcomes the new West Nile testing. "It's not a big deal. I'll find out I have West Nile before anyone else," she says.

"It's just a simple blood test that we are already doing when you come in to donate," says Penrose Hospital's Karen Gordon. She says blood donors must agree to the test before they give. "If you don't, basically we do have to defer as a blood donor."

Many blood centers across the country tested for West Nile last year, but this year, the test is more sensitive. "It's an earlier test that catches it before it has left your blood stream and at that point, once you develop the antigens, you probably are infectious for the West Nile Virus and it can be transmitted through the blood," says Gordon.

Gordon also says catching it earlier will make the blood supply safer. "Now that we have this testing and it's so specific to the West Nile Virus, we do expect to find more cases in Colorado."

No human cases of West Nile have been reported in Colorado or anywhere in the U.S. so far this year. Extended Web Coverage

West Nile virus Facts

  • The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) in humans and other animals.

  • The virus is named after the West Nile region of Uganda where it was first isolated in1937.

  • The virus appeared for the first time in the United States during a 1999 outbreak in New York that killed seven people.

How is the West Nile virus Spread?

  • The virus is spread to humans, birds and other animals through the bite of an infected mosquito.

  • A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird that is carrying the virus.

  • West Nile virus is not spread from person to person, and no evidence indicates the virus can be spread directly from birds to humans.

  • Only a small population of mosquitoes are likely to be infected and most people bitten by an infected mosquito do not become sick.

  • 1 in 300 people bitten by an infected mosquito get sick.

  • 1 in 100-150 who get sick become seriously ill.

  • 3 to 15 percent of those seriously ill die.

Symptoms of the Virus

  • The symptoms generally appear about 3 to 6 days after exposure. People over the age of 50 are at a greater risk of severe illness.

  • Milder symptoms include: Slight fever, headache, body aches, swollen glands and/or sometimes a skin rash.

  • Severe symptoms include: High fever, intense headache, stiff neck, and/or confusion.

Protecting Yourself

  • Control mosquitoes from breeding around your home. Remove standing water from any item or area that can hold water. Standing water is a perfect breeding place for mosquitoes.

  • Wear long and light colored clothing.

  • Use insect repellent products with no ore than 20-30 percent DEET for adults and less than 10 percent for children.

  • Spray repellent on your hands and then apply to your face; spray on clothing, as well. Be sure repellent is safe for human skin and clothing.

  • Wash off repellent daily and reapply as needed.

  • Stay inside at dawn and dusk because that is when mosquitoes are most active.

Source: contributed to this report