FDA: No Miami-Area Blood Donations During Zika Investigation

Jul 28, 2016

Pointing to concerns about transmission of the Zika virus, the federal Food and Drug Administration on Thursday requested that blood banks in Miami-Dade and Broward counties temporarily halt collecting blood until safeguards are put in place.

The announcement came after Florida Department of Health officials said they are investigating four Zika cases in Miami-Dade and Broward that might not be linked to people traveling out of state.

Those cases could indicate that mosquitoes are transmitting the disease to people in Florida -- a major concern of health officials.

"In consideration of the possibility of local transmission of the Zika virus, and as a prudent measure to help assure the safety of blood and blood products, the FDA is requesting that all blood establishments in Miami-Dade County and Broward County cease collecting blood immediately until the blood establishments implement testing of each individual unit of blood collected in the two counties with an available investigational donor screening test for Zika virus RNA or until the blood establishments implement the use of an approved or investigational pathogen inactivation technology," the federal agency said in a statement Thursday.

Zika, which is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and can cause severe birth defects, emerged last year in South America. The number of Floridians diagnosed with the virus has steadily climbed, but until recently health officials said all of the infections had resulted from travel outside the state.

In information posted on its website Thursday, the Florida Department of Health said it was continuing to investigate the four cases in Miami-Dade and Broward that might not be connected to travel.

"Door-to-door outreach and sample collection are ongoing in all cases," the information said. "The department will share more details as they become available. Residents and visitors are urged to participate in requests for urine samples by the department in the areas of investigation. These results will help the department determine the number of people affected."

Local hospitals in Miami-Dade and Broward counties issued statements indicating that they are monitoring the situation but do not expect that the ban will impact their operations.

"At this point, we have not received any indication from OneBlood that this will reduce the volume of blood we receive and we do not anticipate it will impact operations at our hospitals,"  said Jennifer Mooney Piedra, director of Communications of Jackson Health System, in a statement issued on Thursday.

"Jackson Health System will begin using 100 percent Zika-tested blood as soon as the blood banks implement their new protocols,"  added the statement.

"We do not anticipate any shortage at this time," said Lourdes Rodriguez-Barrera, manager of Corporate Communications for Memorial Healthcare System, on a statement. "Operations at our system’s six hospitals have not been disrupted by the temporary halt of blood collection in our area." 

"Administrators at Memorial Healthcare System have been actively monitoring the situation and remain in close contact with OneBlood, the system’s sole blood supplier," said the statement. 

OneBlood, the regional blood bank in the affected counties had announced that it will start screening all collected blood for the Zika virus beginning on Aug. 1.

Yet, after Thursday's FDA announcement, the blood bank said in a press release that it will begin screening blood as soon as Friday.

Both the FDA and OneBlood point to the possibility of having locally acquired cases of Zika. In the event the current investigations prove to be true, OneBlood said it will bring in blood from unaffected areas to supply the region.

OneBlood also said it will cease to collect blood from the impacted zip codes.

The blood bank supplies donated blood to over 200 hospitals across Florida, as well hospitals in Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama.

The FDA has not specified how long the temporary donation ban will last.

WLRN reporters Amanda Rabines and Caitie Switalski contributed to this report.