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FDA advises screening blood donations for Zika

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RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 02: Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen in a lab at the Fiocruz Institute on June 2, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. Microcephaly is a birth defect linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus where infants are born with abnormally small heads. The Brazilian city of Recife and surrounding Pernambuco state remain the epicenter of the Zika virus outbreak, which has now spread to many countries in the Americas. A group of health experts recently called for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to be postponed or cancelled due to the Zika threat but the WHO (World Health Organization) rejected the proposal. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The FDA issued new guidelines to screen blood for Zika on Friday. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Food and Drug Administration urged blood banks to screen donations for Zika virus in an announcement Friday.

The FDA had previously only recommended that donation centers in areas with local transmissions – like Florida – perform the screening.

“There is still much uncertainty regarding the nature and extent of Zika virus transmission,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “At this time, the recommendation for testing the entire blood supply will help ensure that safe blood is available for all individuals who might need transfusion.”

Expanded testing will reduce the risk of Zika, FDA officials said. The testing protocol will be in effect until the risk of Zika transmission is reduced.

The expansion isn’t effective across the country immediately, but should be started within 12 weeks. Eleven states with proximity to cases, including New York, have been advised to implement the recommendations as soon as possible, but not later than 4 weeks from today.

The virus is primarily transmitted by mosquito, but can also be spread by sexual contact. People infected with Zika experience fevers, joint pains and rashes. Infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects.

“It’s clear that additional precautionary measures are necessary,” said Luciana Borio, the FDA’s acting chief scientist. “We are issuing revised guidance for immediate implementation in order to help maintain the safety of the U.S. blood supply.”

Blood banks already test for HIV, West Nile and hepatitis, among other blood-borne viruses. About 2,500 cases of Zika have been reported in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.