Two people in southeastern Brazil contracted the Zika virus through blood transfusions, a municipal health official said Thursday, presenting a fresh challenge to efforts to contain the virus.
The two unrelated cases in Brazil may be the first of people contracting Zika via blood transfusions in the current outbreak, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with other health bodies, have said that Zika could be spread via blood transfusions.
That concern led the U.S. Red Cross to announce that it is asking travelers to Zika outbreak countries to wait at least 28 days before donating blood. Canadian officials said that people who have traveled outside of Canada, the continental United States and Europe won’t be able to give blood for 21 days after their return.
Brigina Kemp, a top health official in the Brazilian city of Campinas, told The Associated Press that a gunshot victim and a transplant patient each tested positive for Zika after receiving blood transfusions from different donors.
Kemp said staff at the University of Campinas’s hospital first noticed something was wrong in the middle of last year, when Brazil’s first cases of Zika were beginning to be reported. Generally so mild that it only causes symptoms in about one out of five cases, Zika began to raise alarm bells after doctors here started to notice a possible link between the virus — spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito — and the birth defect microcephaly.
The hospital staff noticed abnormal blood work on a young gunshot wound victim who had spent months at the facility. The patient received dozens of blood transfusions from 18 donors between February and May 2015, when he died.
Because the region was in the throes of a dengue outbreak at the time, the staff suspected that disease, which is closely related to Zika, and tested him for it, Kemp said. But the tests came back negative and the blood sample was shelved.
But when an organ transplant patient tested positive for Zika after developing a fever, the hospital’s blood bank staff started looking for other possible Zika cases and tests on the gunshot victim’s blood samples came back positive.
Transfusions in the two cases were traced to separate donors who had Zika, both of whom reported having suffered symptoms days after they gave blood.
The blood bank then informed Sao Paulo’s Adolfo Lutz Institute, which also tested the samples and informed Campinas’ health department of the results last month.
The Health Ministry said in an email to The Associated Press that while the case of the gunshot victim was not yet part of a scientific study, “the case is among multiple investigations under way into the behavior of the virus.”