Blood donations are safe during the pandemic and pose no risk of COVID-19 infection, a new study suggests.
Earlier in the crisis, scientists worried that blood donors unknowingly infected with the virus could transmit the disease to patients.
But researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) tested blood samples from more than 250,000 donors and found that only 0.001 percent contained trace amounts of coronavirus DNA.
Even in rare cases where small amounts of coronavirus were present in a blood sample, the virus was not transferred to a new patient.
This is “good news for thousands of patients who may need a blood transfusion,” said one of the doctors involved in the study.
A new NIH study found that only 0.001% of blood samples from donors to recipients contain traces of coronavirus DNA (file image)
An estimated 6.8 million Americans donate blood every year, according to the American Red Cross, with someone in the US who needs blood or platelets every two seconds.
A patient may require a blood transfusion for surgery, cancer treatment, chronic illness, and other injuries.
One condition, sickle cell disease, affects 90,000 to 100,000 people in the US – patients who suffer from this disease require transfusions throughout their lives.
In the spring of 2020, the health care system shifted focus to COVID — while limited testing left many Americans concerned they may have been infected with the coronavirus, but couldn’t be sure.
This concern was especially concerning for blood donation clinics and patients waiting for transfusions. If a donor gave blood – without knowing he was infected – could he transmit the coronavirus to a patient?
Some spring 2020 studies showed low levels of coronavirus RNA in blood samples from hospitalized COVID patients, raising additional concern.
To investigate the problem, scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) examined blood safety nationally.
They wanted to find out how often the coronavirus was actually present in blood donations – and whether it could be transmitted to patients.
The NIH team looked at blood samples collected between March and September 2020.
Samples came from six major metropolitan areas: San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle.
Seattle was the first COVID epicenter in the US, and both New York City and Los Angeles would become hot spots during the collection period — meaning unidentified COVID infections were common in these cities.
To test samples more efficiently, the researchers used a technique called “pooling.” They combined blood samples from several people and tested them together.
Pool testing allows scientists to test samples more efficiently and analyze many samples at once. The NIH researchers found only three COVID-positive pools of nearly 18,000
If a pool tests negative, every sample in the pool is assumed to be negative.
If a pool tests positive, scientists then retest smaller groups of samples included in the pool to find the positive.
In all, the NIH researchers tested about 18,000 pools, including blood donations from 258,000 people. Only three of those 18,000 swimming pools contain a coronavirus.
That is a percentage of one in 100,000, or 0.001% risk of the presence of coronavirus.
When the researchers took a closer look at the COVID-positive samples, they found that very low levels of coronavirus DNA were present. Antibodies associated with an immune system that fights COVID were also not present.
These findings mean that, even in the blood donations in which traces of coronavirus were present, a transfusion is unlikely to transmit COVID to a patient.
There has never been a reported case of a patient who received COVID through a blood transfusion, the researchers note in a summary of these findings (published in the magazine on Tuesday Transfusion). This new study adds additional evidence to support the safety of blood transfusions.
‘This finding is’ good news for thousands of patients who may need a blood transfusion because of surgery or a disease that causes anemia, such as a rare blood-related condition or leukemia,” said Dr. Simone Glynn, chief of the Division of Blood Epidemiology and Clinical Therapeutics at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which, along with another NIH study desk.
Still, the researchers advise potential blood donors not to go to a donation clinic if they have COVID symptoms or have been in contact with someone who recently tested positive.
“It appears safe to receive blood as a transfusion recipient and to continue donating blood without fear of transmission of COVID-19 as long as current screenings are used,” said Dr Sonia Bakkour, a scientist on the study’s research team .