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.
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Source: www.vdh.state.va.us contributed to this report