SASKATOON – Anyone who has travelled outside of Canada, the United States or Europe will now be temporarily ineligible to give blood. On Wednesday, Canadian Blood Services made the move to protect Canada’s blood supply from the Zika virus.
A new 21-day waiting period is being implemented across the country and will take full effect in all clinics as of Friday.
While the organization has officially changed its eligibility criteria to 21-days, it has asked anyone who has travelled outside of these specified zones to postpone blood donation for at least a month.
“It’s something clearly we need to worry about as with any other mosquito borne disease,” said Dr. Andrew Potter, the CEO of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre.
The 21-day waiting period will also apply to cord blood and stem cell donors who have travelled to affected areas. The ban comes on the heels of the first confirmed case of the Zika virus through sexual transmission in the United States on Tuesday.
According to health officials, the patient contracted the virus from a partner who was ill with Zika and had become infected while travelling to Venezuela.
“You might travel and get a mild illness but if you’re planning to get pregnant and you’ve returned from one of those outbreak countries, you certainly need to space and prevent pregnancy for at least a month or two,” said Dr. Johnmark Opondo, deputy medical health officer for the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR).
While the virus isn’t deadly, it has been linked to birth defects especially if a woman contracts the virus in the first few months of pregnancy.
“It can affect the developing neurological system of an unborn child,” said Opondo.
“This is what moves your muscles, this what controls your sensation, that’s how you interpret the world is through your neurological system.”
According to Potter, the virus itself has been known about for quite awhile and didn’t just come out of nowhere.
“We know a lot about this family of viruses including how to make vaccines for them, we just have to get our heads around if it is worth doing it with this.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) says Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys through a monitoring network of sylvatic yellow fever. It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzani with outbreaks recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific in the past.
It’s estimated only about 20 per cent of people will actually develop symptoms and earlier this week the spread of the virus in Central and South America lead WHO to declared an international emergency.
This has prompted local health officials to warn the public against travelling to affected areas if you’re pregnant. If you’re not expecting, travellers are still warned to take precautions against mosquito bites and postpone pregnancy plans.
“If you are planning pregnancy immediately this is not the time,” said Opondo.