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Recently Described Virus, XMRV, May Threaten Our Blood Supply

Posted May 07 2010 12:00am

A virus discovered in 2006 may pose a potential threat to our blood supply. Details about XMRV were revealed in as recent article (see: Potential Risk to Blood Supply Probed ; subscription required). Below is an excerpt from it:

An infectious virus linked to two diseases is drawing the attention of public-health officials, who are investigating the potential threat to the nation's blood supply. It isn't clear if the virus, known as XMRV, poses a danger, and public-health officials say there isn't evidence of spreading infection. But because of concern over the potential for widespread infection and preliminary evidence that XMRV is transmitted similarly to HIV, officials are quickly trying to determine if action is needed to protect the blood supply. XMRV was discovered in 2006 when it was found in tumor samples from men with a rare form of familial prostate cancer. Research has also linked the virus to chronic fatigue syndrome and found it in measurable levels in the blood of healthy people. But the evidence isn't conclusive, as several other studies failed to find XMRV in the blood of people with chronic fatigue syndrome, and it isn't known how prevalent the virus is or whether it causes disease....Efforts are under way to find effective tests for the virus and determine its prevalence, led by a working group funded by the National Institutes of Health and including federal agencies such as the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blood banks, academic institutions and at least one advocacy group are also involved.

Although it's not always described in this way, blood transfusion is the most common (liquid) organ transplantation performed in the U.S. yearly. By almost any measure, about ten per cent of blood transfusions are unnecessary. In a recent note in Lab Soft News, evidence was presented that nearly a third of transfusions were unnecessary as determined by well-managed audits of hospital blood transfusions practices (see: Unnecessary (Avoidable) Blood Transfusion -- Looking at Some Hard Data ).

A sizable number of hospital transfusions often fall into the "perhaps justifiable" category in the sense that they are premature/proactive/precautionary. The transfusion of blood or blood products is always associated with some risk of infection including, perhaps, the transmission of the XMRV virus discussed above. Here's a question for patients or family members to ask their surgeon or internist when blood transfusion is being considered for a patient: Is this transfusion prompted by extreme clinical circumstances and what are the consequences of avoiding it in lieu of watchful waiting?

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