As the mosquito-borne Zira virus monopolizes the attention of Brazil's government and media, adding to the burden of the dengue epidemic, researchers are offering a method to blood banks that wish to screen transfusion blood for pregnant women and in cases of intrauterine transfusion. There is a suspicion that Zika could cause foeatuses to develop microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small heads and brains.
The initiative is led by São Paulo's blood bank Fundação Pró-Sangue/Hemocentro, with support from the research foundation Fapesp. Headed by molecular biologist José Eduardo Levi, it is making available a method that uses real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in combination with the protocols developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US to detect Zika. The CDC protocol, which includes specific reagents, primers and probes, underwent adaptations for local use, Levi says in a press statement.
Validation is done with isolates of lab-grown viruses supplied by researchers at Rede Zika, an emergency network established to deal with the crisis and its possible link with microcephaly. Further validation is carried out in the plasma of the receiver of the transfusion.
Since the Zika epidemic broke out in 2015, there have been at least two confirmed cases of infection through blood transfusion.
Levi added that, for now, the monitoring of transfusion blood will focus on those two types of situations that account for only 0.16 percent of the total. However, the researchers will keep a an eye on how the disease progresses and change tack accordingly.