Published April 05, 2010
An infectious virus linked to two diseases is drawing the attention of public-health officials, who are investigating the potential threat to the nation's blood supply, the Wall Street Journal reported in its Monday edition.
It isn't clear if the virus, known as XMRV, poses a danger, and public-health officials say there isn't evidence of spreading infection. But because of concern over the potential for widespread infection and preliminary evidence that XMRV is transmitted similarly to HIV, officials are quickly trying to determine if action is needed to protect the blood supply.
XMRV was discovered in 2006 when it was found in tumor samples from men with a rare form of familial prostate cancer. Research has also linked the virus to chronic fatigue syndrome and found it in measurable levels in the blood of healthy people. But the evidence isn't conclusive, as several other studies failed to find XMRV in the blood of people with chronic fatigue syndrome, and it isn't known how prevalent the virus is or whether it causes disease.
"These are early days trying to understand the public health significance of XMRV," said Jay Epstein, director of the Office of Blood Research and Review at the Food and Drug Administration.
Efforts are under way to find effective tests for the virus and determine its prevalence, led by a working group funded by the National Institutes of Health and including federal agencies such as the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blood banks, academic institutions and at least one advocacy group are also involved.
The focus on XMRV is part of a growing effort to better monitor emerging infections -- disorders that have either increased in humans in recent decades or are deemed a potential threat. Currently there are 12 tests used to block infectious agents from entering the blood supply, such as HIV or hepatitis C, and more screens are under study, including those for dengue, human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and agents that cause malaria.
There is no FDA-licensed lab test for XMRV, and officials say they are still setting standards for diagnosing it.