LifeSouth uncertain how 2 got West Nile

Published: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 10:36 p.m.


LifeSouth's connection

  • The LifeSouth blood products were involved in two cases - one a woman in Charlotte, N.C., and the second a 7-year-old from Tallahassee who was a transplant patient at Shands at the University of Florida.

  • It has been more than two months since LifeSouth Regional Blood Center launched an investigation to determine if two hospital patients may have contracted West Nile virus through the blood products they received and if any of those blood products may have originated with Gainesville donors.
    The Gainesville-based community blood center still does not have all the answers, according to Jill Evans, director of quality assurance for LifeSouth.
    "Both cases are still considered open and I have no conclusive results yet," Evans said Friday.
    The LifeSouth blood products were involved in two cases - one a woman in Charlotte, N.C., and the second a 7-year-old from Tallahassee who was a transplant patient at Shands at the University of Florida. Testing is being done by the Centers for Disease Control at their laboratories in Fort Collins, Colo., Evans explained.
    "They have such a backlog, with so many cases and units of blood products involved, that it is taking a long time," she said.
    Between Aug. 28 and Oct. 2, the CDC received reports from 10 states of 15 patients with confirmed WNV encephalitis diagnosed after receiving blood components. West Nile viral encephalitis was the probable cause of death reported for at least three of the four patients who died, according to a recent report from the Food and Drug Administration to the blood centers it regulates.
    As of Dec. 31, Florida had reported 29 human cases of West Nile virus, and two of them had proven fatal, according to the CDC.
    "It has just been a crazy season for West Nile," a CDC spokesman said, between the possibility of transmission through breast milk and the blood-products issue.
    In mid-December, the FDA called for a voluntary withdrawal of blood plasma collected and frozen during the peak period of the West Nile epidemic to further reduce the risk of spreading the disease through blood products. The agency estimated that 30,000 pints might have to be destroyed in the recall.
    Bill Gair, chief operating officer, said LifeSouth participated in the recall. The regional blood center provides blood products to all Alachua County hospitals, among 32 medical facilities in a 17-county area of North Central Florida.
    "The CDC put out a national map listing the states and peak periods for West Nile virus, which in Florida was July to November. I think it was the second longest period in the nation," Gair said.
    "Each region did a survey of what products were still in inventory at the blood centers or the hospitals the blood center serves, then coordinated an effort to get those products back," he added.
    Because of the way LifeSouth handles its inventory, using the older blood products first, only a couple-hundred units of frozen blood products had to be recalled and destroyed here, according to Gair.
    In its most recent directive to blood banks, the FDA stated: "While studies are ongoing, current investigations provide strong evidence that West Nile virus can be transmitted through blood transfusion.
    "We are not recommending any changes to standard donor screening and blood collection projected to identify or otherwise query donors who may have been exposed to WNV.
    "As a prudent measure, we are providing recommendations for donor deferral, and for product quarantine and retrieval related to reports of post-donation illnesses in the donor or WNV infection in recipients of blood."
    "We don't currently have a test available (for the presence of the virus in blood) and we cannot defer every donor who has been exposed to mosquitoes," Evans explained.
    Even though the mosquito season is over here, LifeSouth donors are now being asked to report any symptoms that they show after making a donation that might be indicative of West Nile virus.
    "The cases confirmed nationwide so far are more than enough for us to be cautious," she said.
    Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or chund@

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