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Ross River virus in ‘at-risk’ Australian blood donors: implications for blood supply safety

What was the question?

We wanted to find out whether any of our donors in “at risk” areas were infected with the Ross River virus (RRV) during peak seasons for transmission of the disease. This information will be used to assess the risk of transmitting RRV through blood transfusion, and help us decide whether we need additional controls to keep the blood supply safe.

Why is it important?

People can become infected with RRV if they are bitten by mosquitos carrying the virus. It occurs more frequently in some parts of the country than others and infection can result in symptoms such as painful and/or swollen joints, sore muscles, aching tendons, skin rashes, fever and tiredness.

The virus can be present in a person’s blood before they show symptoms, so transmission through blood transfusion is possible. In 2015 a probable case of transfusion-transmitted RRV was reported1. To help maintain blood safety in Australia, people who are diagnosed with RRV are ineligible to donate blood for four weeks after they recover from all their symptoms. An additional safety precaution is through post donation illness notification. If the donor reports a diagnosis of RRV, the Blood Service will recall all fresh components donated from 4 weeks before illness, and up to 4 weeks after.

What did we do?

We selected 10 donor centers that were located within areas that reported the most RRV cases between 2009 and 2014. The centres were Mildura, Darwin, Rockingham, Townsville, Nambour, Bunbury, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Albany, and Strathpine. There were no donor centres located in the areas at the greatest risk of transmission of the virus.

Donor centre employees collected over 7,500 extra samples from blood donors who live in these areas in March and April of 2015. We tested for the virus in the donor blood samples by looking for its genetic material (RNA).

What did we find out?

We did not detect RRV RNA in any of the 7,500 donations we collected, even though these were collected during peak seasons and in areas where the risk of this virus is the highest.

Our results show that the risk of collecting a RRV infected donation in Australia is low, and at the lower range of what we had predicted from risk modelling.

As a result, we believe that our current procedures are appropriate to manage the risk of RRV transfusion transmission, and no additional measures are required. This work is currently being written up for publication. If you would like more information, please contact Dr Helen Faddy (hfaddy@redcrossblood.org.au).

We would like to thank the donor centre staff and donors in all centres involved for assistance with this study. The study would not have been possible without you.

References

1. Hoad VC, Speers DJ, Keller AJ, Dowse GK, Seed CR, Lindsay MD, Faddy HM, Pink J: First reported case of transfusion-transmitted Ross River virus infection. Med J Aust. 2015;202: 267-70.
RESEARCH STUDY UPDATE: Ross River virus in ‘at-risk’ Australian blood donors: implications for blood supply safety