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Monday 22 July 2019

Donors learned they had HIV virus only after giving blood

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

TWO people who had HIV, and another three with Hepatitis C, only discovered they had the infections when they donated blood, the Irish Independent has learned.

The infections were confirmed after tests carried out by the blood service in the past three years.

Two other prospective donors last year discovered they had Hepatitis B, while six tested positive for syphilis.

None of their blood donations were used and Dr Ian Franklin, medical and scientific director of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, said that, based on published work, it was highly unlikely a serious virus would get through the checks carried out by the organisation.

He said the chances of a patient being infected with HIV through a blood transfusion was one in nine million; for Hepatitis C it was less than one in 20 million; and for hepatitis B it was around one in a million.

The IBTS had 85,762 donors last year and there were 141,350 donations, while some 75,000 transfusions took place.

Dr Franklin said the Irish blood bank was stricter than its counterparts in other countries because of its history.

The infection of haemophiliacs with HIV and the contamination of the blood product Anti-D with hepatitis C in the past badly damaged the service's reputation.

Dr Franklin said the IBTS would continue to ban sexually active gay men giving blood, even though this has been partly relaxed in the UK.

The IBTS is unaware of anyone who has been infected with a virus transmitted by transfusion in Ireland in the past few years.

The last time a proven infection was passed on through transfusion was when women were infected with Hepatitis C up to 1994 through the blood product Anti-D.

Dr Franklin said the IBTS remained vigilant for a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the human form of mad cow disease, and does not accept blood donations from people who spent one year or more in the UK between January 1980 and December 1996.

"The good news is that the number of cases of vCJD has dwindled," he said.

"But we will not review the restrictions for a few years yet even though it excludes a lot of donors."

The blood service was also fearful of the West Nile virus coming through blood transfusions but this has also not materialised and people who travel to countries where they could pick it up are banned from donating for around a month.

"Doctors and scientists are always cautious but people who receive transfusion need not be concerned.

"The blood supply here is safer than most. The testing regime here is as stringent as any," said Dr Franklin.

"Blood transfusion as a treatment is probably safer than many other treatments people get. But we cannot afford complacency."

Irish Independent

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