Canadian Blood Services Launches Early Test for West Nile Virus
OTTAWA, Ontario – June 17, 2003 – In order to add an extra layer of protection to the blood supply, Canadian Blood Services has launched an “early-testing initiative” to screen a portion of donated blood for West Nile Virus -- two weeks before it begins testing all blood donations with its commercial test on or about July 1. Testing began today on blood collected yesterday, using an “in-house” test developed by the Canadian Blood Services Research and Development team. The new test, located in Ottawa, is testing blood collected by the London, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa Blood Centres. The tested blood will be sent to the regions of the country that are considered to be at highest risk of West Nile Virus.
“The decision to test blood collected in Southern and Eastern Ontario was based on supply and proximity to the laboratory,” said Dr. Graham Sher, Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Blood Services. “We collect about one third of all the blood in the system in those areas. That guarantees us a generous and steady supply. We also needed the collection sites to be relatively near the testing site because some of the blood products we will be producing must be transfused within five days, so the turn-around time is very short,” said Dr. Sher.
Canadian Blood Services will use surveillance data to ship the tested blood to those areas considered to be at highest risk of West Nile Virus. Should a human case occur, the tested blood could be supplied to the area where the case occurred, and blood collection in that area could be curtailed.
In the absence of a human case in Canada, Canadian Blood Services will use bird and animal data to determine where the tested blood should be sent. To date, 13 birds are confirmed positive for West Nile Virus in Ontario and most recently, one in Manitoba and one in Saskatchewan. Infected birds have also been reported in Quebec, however Canadian Blood Services is not responsible for the blood system in Quebec.
Initially, the tested blood will be sent to Ontario, and allocated to hospitals according to their historical patterns of use. As new surveillance data becomes available, Canadian Blood Services will review it to determine whether to expand the distribution of the tested products to include other regions. Canadian Blood Services has advised the medical community of the need to make decisions about which patients should be considered to be at highest risk, and therefore which patients should receive the tested blood if there is a limited supply.
“We are introducing this in-house test because we believe we must do everything possible to reduce the risk of West Nile Virus to the blood supply, however we want to caution people that it is limited in its capacity and its implementation may not be as smooth as we would all like. A lot of the processes are manual and unlike a normal situation, we don’t have the luxury of a back-up test if we run into problems. That said, the test uses the same world-class technology as our current tests for HIV and Hepatitis-C,” said Dr. Sher.
“The key point here is that until we are testing all blood collections with the commercial test in July, some tested blood is better than no tested blood. We will work closely with the medical community to ensure it has the information it needs to fairly allocate the tested blood to those who most need it,” added Dr. Sher.
“The other point to note is that the development and implementation of this in-house test underscores the extent of change that has occurred in the blood system in this country and the value of the blood system operator conducting research and development. This is an important moment in history,” said Dr. Sher.
The early-testing initiative is particularly important for blood products that cannot be stockpiled – for example platelets, which must be transfused within five days of being donated. Platelets are a component of blood commonly used to treat cancer patients and patients with bleeding disorders. Canadian Blood Services will prioritize the testing of platelets and of units of blood that will be used to produce platelets.
The in-house test was developed to complement other measures that Canadian Blood Services has already taken to minimize the risk of West Nile Virus to the blood supply:
- On May 20, 2003, Canadian Blood Services launched an urgent national appeal to ask Canadians to help build a stockpile of red blood cells in an unprecedented four-week donation “blitz”;
- Last winter, when the risk of West Nile Virus was extremely low, the organization began stockpiling blood components that can be frozen and stored for up to one year;
- Canadian Blood Services screens out donors who have any symptoms of illness when they turn up to donate;
- Blood donors are advised to contact Canadian Blood Services if they begin to feel sick in the period after their donation, so their blood can be withdrawn and destroyed;
- Canadian Blood Services searches to determine if people believed to have West Nile Virus are recent blood donors or recipients. Blood units linked to those people are pulled and destroyed.
The commercial test, which will eventually be used to screen all blood collections, continues to be on track for implementation on or about July 1, or potentially sooner. Finishing touches are currently being applied to the Toronto and Calgary laboratories, the essential equipment is now in place, operating procedures have been developed and tested, and staff training is on schedule. Testing of the complex software is underway, and further refinements are about to be installed and tested. The Toronto laboratory is slightly ahead of the Calgary laboratory in its preparations. If the Toronto laboratory is able to start ahead of schedule, it will take over from the in-house test in order to provide relief to the scientists and technicians who will be operating the manual procedures themselves in Ottawa.
The in-house test was developed by a Canadian Blood Services Research and Development team, led by Dr. John Saldanha, Executive Director, Infectious Diseases. Dr. Saldanha is a recognized expert in the field of blood testing technologies and moved from the U.K. to join Canadian Blood Services late last year.
“My sincere thanks goes out to all of our staff who have moved mountains to make this early-testing initiative happen, and to the donors who have helped us to build our inventory,” said Dr. Sher. “There is no risk of contracting West Nile Virus from donating blood – but there is a very real risk of blood shortages should it be necessary to reduce collections or defer donors as a result of the virus. Please continue to give generously by making an appointment to donate blood.”
To book an appointment, ask a question or locate a clinic near you, please call 1 888 2 DONATE.
Canadian Blood Services is a national, not-for-profit charitable organization that manages the blood supply in all provinces and territories outside of Quebec and operates the country’s Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry. Canadian Blood Services operates 40 permanent collection sites and more than 10,000 donor clinics annually.
NOTE: An audio replay of the news conference announcing the in-house test is available starting at 12:30 p.m. EDT by dialing 1 877 289 8525 (pass code: 21006362#).
For media contacts click here.