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November 21, 2014
Chikungunya virus affecting blood donation numbers

Over the past three months, the number of persons being deferred from donating blood because they have contracted the chikungunya virus has seen a tenfold increase, according to a senior official within the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment.

In accordance with guidelines set by {{more}}the World Health Organization (WHO), individuals with a history of chikungunya (and dengue fever) should be deferred from making blood donations for six months following recovery from the infection.

Claudette Laidlow-Williams, chief laboratory technologist in the Ministry of Health, said: “We have agreed that anyone who comes and reports that they have had chikungunya, as long as six months have passed and they are not exhibiting any symptoms – they are well at the time – they can donate.”

With an average of 80 – 100 persons donating blood on a monthly basis, the blood bank at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital recorded three deferrals in August, 21 in September, and 36 in October.

Laidlow-Williams said that with blood supplies already being short, having to defer blood donations is challenging because many chikungunya sufferers have ‘relapses’ of their symptoms. This makes it difficult to establish the point of recovery from which the six-month deferral must be enforced.

She added that around April 2014, when incidences of the disease began rapidly increasing, the Ministry of Health began looking at the implications for blood transfusions.

“There is really no evidence yet, according to both this [WHO guidelines] and the American Association of Blood Banks, of transmission of chikungunya through blood tranfusion,” she admitted.

However, she did point out that this lack of evidence could be down to not much research having been done in the Caribbean and African region with regard to the spread of the disease.

Laidlow-Williams said that she is hopeful that the Ministry’s efforts to eradicate the vector (aedes egypti mosquito) will decrease the number of new chikungunya infections, as this will eventually result in fewer persons having to be given six-month deferrals on donating blood.

Since the early 2000s, the Ministry has been aiming to achieve 100 per cent voluntary blood donations, but is currently at under five per cent. Laidlow-Williams said that the lion’s share of donations are requested – referred to as ‘family replacements’ or ‘directed donations’.

“True, we could be doing more [to encourage voluntary donations] but current situations don’t allow us,” she lamented.

The Ministry is hoping to implement its mobile blood bank unit next year, along with more information being made available to the public about the importance of donating blood.(JSV)