Despite the fact that blood collected at city banks is tested for hepatitis virus before transfusion, many thalassaemia patients are infected with the hepatitis C virus that is spread through blood transfusions, said doctors.
Think Foundation, a non-profit working for thalassaemia patients found that at least 10% of the 1,400 patients undergoing regular blood transfusion have been infected with Hepatitis C.
In thalassaemia, a genetic blood disorder, patients are required to undergo blood transfusion as the body has problems in making haemoglobin. “All thalassaemia patients take the hepatitis B vaccination, but as there is no hepatitis C vaccination for these patients, they are at very high risk of contracting the virus during transfusion,” said Vinay Shetty from Think Foundation.
After 2002, any blood collected is screened for HIV, hepatitis B and C, malaria and syphilis diseases. Doctors blamed the “primitive method” of screening which fails to pick up the hepatitis virus from blood collected in the window period (time between the onset of infection and the appearance of detectable antibodies). “The incubation period of the hepatitis B and C virus could be anywhere between 15 to 20 years. The screening test at times cannot pick up the virus in the window period and if such infected blood in transfused, the virus will be transmitted,” said, Dr Abha Nagral, liver specialist Jaslok Hospital and founder trustee of Children Liver Foundation.
Owing to the cost-effectiveness, majority of blood banks do not employ the Nucleic Acid Test (NAT), which can detect the virus sooner compared to other tests. “The government has asked for mandatory screening and not prescribed a particular test. The cost of NAT is 5 to 6 times more compared to the regular tests,” said a senior doctor from the State Blood Transfusion Centre.
The city’s largest blood bank, the JJ Mahanagar blood bank also does not employ the NAT testing. At least 1% of the blood collected is infected with hepatitis B and C at our bank. “We do a comprehensive check of the donors. If they have a history of a recent blood transfusion, sexual contact we reject them,” said Dr Abhijeet Borpadikar who runs MGSM blood bank, Bandra.