The agency responsible for most of Canada’s blood supply says it’s moving to safeguard the supply from the Zika virus.
Canadian Blood Services is implementing a three-week waiting period for anyone travelling outside of Canada, the continental U-S and Europe.
To reduce the spread of the Zika virus in the Canadian blood supply, Canadian Blood Services will implement a 21-day deferral on giving blood for those travellers, starting Feb. 5.
“This new temporary deferral period will safeguard Canada’s blood supply against the Zika virus, and will also help us protect against other similar mosquito-borne viruses,” says Dr. Dana Devine, chief medical and scientific officer, Canadian Blood Services.
The 21-day waiting period also applies to cord blood and stem cell donors who have travelled to affected areas. Héma-Québec (Quebec’s blood operator) will be implementing the same change.
The risk of a Canadian donor transmitting the Zika virus to a blood recipient is very low. The mosquito that carries the virus does not live in Canada due to our colder climate. There have been very few reported cases of Zika virus infection in travellers who acquired the virus abroad.
To cope with the expected impact of fewer eligible donors, Canadian Blood Services wants people to donate before they leave the country. Those who have travelled inside Canada, United States and Europe can still donate.
Signs and Symptoms
The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) of Zika virus disease is not clear, but is likely to be a few days. The symptoms are similar to other arbovirus infections such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. These symptoms are usually mild and last for 2-7 days.
During large outbreaks in French Polynesia and Brazil in 2013 and 2015 respectively, national health authorities reported potential neurological and auto-immune complications of Zika virus disease. Recently in Brazil, local health authorities have observed an increase in Zika virus infections in the general public as well as an increase in babies born with microcephaly in northeast Brazil. Agencies investigating the Zika outbreaks are finding an increasing body of evidence about the link between Zika virus and microcephaly. However, more investigation is needed before we understand the relationship between microcephaly in babies and the Zika virus. Other potential causes are also being investigated.
Zika virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus, mainly Aedes aegypti in tropical regions. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Zika virus disease outbreaks were reported for the first time from the Pacific in 2007 and 2013 (Yap and French Polynesia, respectively), and in 2015 from the Americas (Brazil and Colombia) and Africa (Cape Verde). In addition, more than 13 countries in the Americas have reported sporadic Zika virus infections indicating rapid geographic expansion of Zika virus.
Zika virus is diagnosed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and virus isolation from blood samples. Diagnosis by serology can be difficult as the virus can cross-react with other flaviviruses such as dengue, West Nile and yellow fever.
Mosquitoes and their breeding sites pose a significant risk factor for Zika virus infection. Prevention and control relies on reducing mosquitoes through source reduction (removal and modification of breeding sites) and reducing contact between mosquitoes and people.
This can be done by using insect repellent; wearing clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets. It is also important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots or tyres, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed.
Special attention and help should be given to those who may not be able to protect themselves adequately, such as young children, the sick or elderly.
During outbreaks, health authorities may advise that spraying of insecticides be carried out. Insecticides recommended by the WHO Pesticide Evaluation Scheme may also be used as larvicides to treat relatively large water containers.
Travellers should take the basic precautions described above to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. People sick with Zika virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical care and advice. There is currently no vaccine available.