Blood banks across the country will now have to scan the travel history of blood and plasma donors to check if they have visited Zika-affected countries in the past four months.
A circular from the National Blood Transfusion Committee (NBTC) set a stringent donor selection and donor screening criteria to prevent the deadly virus from spreading in India. While India has not reported a Zika virus case so far, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called it a global epidemic as it has affected many parts of South East Asia, Europe, South America and several African countries.
With doctors yet to find a way to contain the outbreak, the NBTC has asked for a more stringent scanning of blood donors’ travel history. “Blood banks must ask for a travel history of donors coming from Zika-hit regions in the past 120 days. The individual must be symptom-free until this period or prior to the period of blood donation,” said the notification, released by MG Nimje, under-secretary to the government of India and NBTC.
The notification also restricts blood banks from accepting blood from patients who have suffered acute viral infection or are on medication for symptoms similar to Zika until after two weeks of completely recovering. The NBTC has also asked travellers returning from Zika-hit regions to not donate blood for 120 days and report to blood banks if they develop symptoms after two weeks of donating blood.
Officials confirmed the notification was based on international studies and WHO guidelines on the Zika infection.
A study published in the Lancet infectious diseases journal pointed out a month ago that India, with its 1.2billion people, is a potential Zika virus transmission area as conditions for breeding of mosquitoes are favourable here and because of the number of travellers who visit from countries affected by the disease.
What is the Zika virus?
It is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by the Aedes mosquitoes. People with the disease show symptoms such as mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain and headaches. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days. There is scientific consensus that Zika causes microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Links to other neurological complications are also being investigated.