Pittston blood center begins Zika testing, DEP cautions against complacency
The Food and Drug Administration has set a new guideline that blood banks across the U.S. should be screening blood donations for the Zika virus by Nov. 18, and the Geisinger Blood Center in Pittston means to comply.
Geisinger plans to make this transition seamless, continuing availability of clean blood products, but a spokesperson said potential patients should still be aware of the presence of the virus. Although all 102 cases of Zika in Pennsylvania are attributed to travel, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection warns people to use caution when outdoors. People polled in downtown Wilkes-Barre said they wouldn’t necessarily worry about contracting the virus in a laboratory environment, but opinions were mixed on travelling to Zika-prevalent regions.
Executive director of the Pittston Geisinger Blood Center, Mike Quint, said testing labs, located in Pittsburgh, are already gearing up for the Nov. 18 deadline.
“It’s not going to shock their system,” Quint said. “They’re already implementing Zika testing in other states, so our’s will just be an add-on to that.”
Quint said he doubts Pennsylvania blood recipients consider the transmission of the virus through transfusion, but it’s Geisinger’s responsibility to educate its donors and patients.
“I would tell you it’s probably not so much on their minds,” Quint said. “However, we put it on their minds. We screen every donor and part of that screening process is questions pertaining specifically to Zika. If they’ve travelled to Miami-Dade, Florida in the last 28 days, we ask them not to donate.”
Emergency personnel are frequently exposed to the blood of others, but Director of Health for Wilkes-Barre City, Henry Radulski said proper procedure is in place to protect those individuals.
“There’s nothing special that’s been put in place, because the Zika virus is a blood-born pathogen,” Radulski said. “Our employees are trained well to use precautions when they are exposed to blood or any other bodily fluids.”
Sandy Acornley, of Parsons, said Zika wouldn’t be in the forefront of her thinking in an emergency situation in Pennsylvania, but travelling to a vector-born (mosquito-transmitted) area would be out of the question.
“It’s prevalent (in South Florida),” Acornley said. “When you see the news and see them spraying, it’s scary.”
According to an AP article, close to half of Americans polled have reservations about visiting areas of the country where infections have been caused by the mosquito population.
Lisette Centeno, of Philadelphia, agreed with Acornley that Zika would not enter her mind if she was donating or receiving blood, but the young mother has no plans to travel to riskier regions, since Zika’s most devastating symptoms cause microcephaly, a condition that results in reduced brain and cranial structure, in unborn babies.
“I’m trying to get pregnant,” Centeno said. “I wouldn’t chance it. I would wait.”
Floyd Austin, of Wilkes-Barre, is concerned with neither blood products nor travel. He said he feels Pennsylvania will soon become too cold to harbor the virus.
“I’d feel safe if (blood centers) were testing,” Austin said.
Austin, who has family in Miami, is planning a trip there in November and said he’s not anxious.
Although Zika has not become widespread in Pennsylvania, DEP is taking many precautions to monitor the disease.
Spokesperson Colleen Connolly said surveillance has increased.
“We have two sites set up in Luzerne County,” Connolly said. “We’re capturing as many mosquitoes as possible.”
Connolly said the department hasn’t seen many cases above the Lehigh Valley, but that’s no reason for becoming lackadaisical with monitoring.
“Don’t think because it’s getting cooler that you’re not susceptible,” Connolly said. “It’s still out there. Use bug spray whenever you’re at football or field hockey games or out in woods or fields. We encourage people to protect themselves and wear long sleeves.”
Mosquito collection hasn’t revealed a vector presence in Pennsylvania, but that, Connolly said, is also no reason to become complacent.
“We just haven’t trapped them or caught them yet, so to speak,” she said.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts