FDA panel recommends Zika testing of donated blood be relaxed

(Reuters) - Advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday recommended that the requirements for screening blood donations for the Zika virus be relaxed due to diminished risk of transfusion-transmitted infection.

The advisory panel voted that instead of requiring Zika virus testing on each individual blood donation, tests could be conducted on “mini-pools” in which blood samples are pooled before testing.

In 2016 the FDA advised U.S. blood centers to screen all blood donations for Zika. The recommendation came amid a Zika outbreak that spread through more than 30 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and parts of the United States.

The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to a rare birth defect known as microcephaly, and last year’s outbreak prompted health officials to declare a global health emergency.

The panel’s recommendation would bring Zika virus testing more in line with the way U.S. blood banks screen for West Nile Virus. The panel recommended that criteria be established for resuming individual unit testing if risks increase.

These could include discovery of the type of mosquito that carries Zika or infection starting to spread in a given area.

In 2016, 5,102 Zika virus cases were reported in the United States with another 36,079 reported in U.S. territories, according to federal data. Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 29, 2017, 362 cases were reported in the United States, mostly in travelers returning from affected areas, and 594 cases were reported in U.S. territories.

Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman