Public health officials are battling a host of new infectious threats to the nation's blood supply.
Blood centers, which have long tested for risks like hepatitis C and AIDS, have added a number of new tests on donated blood in recent years, including checks for West Nile virus and Chagas, a tropical parasitic disease.
But new screening tests are hard to develop and can take years to win government approval. Currently, for instance, there's no way to screen for newer threats like babesiosis, a parasitic infection that has been linked to 10 U.S. deaths through blood transfusions since 2006. And a dangerous virus known as Chikungunya has spread to the U.S. and Europe from Africa in the last several years.
Blood supply officials are urging the U.S. government to adopt so-called pathogen-reduction technology that can kill a wide range of contaminants in blood after it has been donated. One method already in use in about a dozen countries in Europe, Asia and elsewhere destroys most pathogens with a combination of chemicals and ultraviolet light. The Food and Drug Administration declined to approve the technology several years ago, citing possible side effects. But the agency is continuing to evaluate it.
About 16 million units of whole blood and red blood cells were donated in the U.S. in 2006, the latest figures available. Most of the blood supply is handled by the American Red Cross and dozens of privately run blood-bank centers.