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Row as liver virus found in donated blood

Monday July 28th, 2014

There was controversy today over a study which revealed that thousands of blood donors are infected with a usually harmless liver virus.

British researchers who studied the prevalence of the hepatitis E virus said they did not believe it was necessary yet to screen blood donors.

But other experts disagreed.

The study of the virus was published for World Hepatitis Day today.

According to the researchers, people with suppressed immune systems, such as transplant patients, may contract persistent hepatitis E and be placed at risk of developing chronic liver disease.

The study, reported in The Lancet, found that about one in every 3,000 blood donors in England showed signs of infection with the virus.

This would mean some 1,200 blood components used in transfusions were infected with the virus.

The findings come from an analysis of some 225,000 donations in south-east England over 12 months period. Some 79 donors were infected - leading to some 62 donations being at risk.

The researchers found that 42% of patients who received the infected blood components contracted the virus - known as HEV.

Researcher Professor Richard Tedder, of Public Health England, said: "Our study indicates that the overall burden of harm resulting from transfusion-transmitted HEV is slight.

"Although on a clinical basis alone there appears no pressing need at this time for blood donations to be screened, a broader discussion over harm mitigation is now required."

He added: "HEV genotype 3 infections are widespread in the English population, including blood donors. We estimate that between 80 000 and 100 000 human HEV infections are likely to have occurred in England during the year of our study."

But, writing in the journal, Professor Jean-Michel Pawlotsky, from Hôpital Henri Mondor, Université Paris-Est, Créteil, France, said donated blood should be systematically screened for the virus.

He adds: "The potential clinical results of blood-borne HEV infection should not be downplayed; in particular, the risk of serious complications and death exists."

E virus in blood components: a prevalence and transmission study in southeast England. Lancet 28 July 2014 [abstract]

Tags: Flu & Viruses | Gastroenterology | Internal Medicine | UK News | World Health

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