Shepeard Blood Centers begin screening for Zika

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)- Shepeard Community Blood Centers in the CSRA have been working on Zika testing for months, so when the FDA announced about a month ago that it would be mandatory for all southern states, they were able to start sending off samples to the lab a day early.

Zika has been at the forefront of public consciousness for months, but before Friday, most states didn’t require donated blood to be screened for the virus.

“There’s no FDA-approved test,” said Kevin Belanger, CEO of Shepeard Community Blood Center.

But they’re working on that. Starting Friday, Southern states and New York are required to have blood centers test their donations for Zika. Even though the test isn’t FDA-approved, the data collected could bring them one step closer to that approval.

“It’s under investigative protocol,” Belanger said. “Because Zika’s fairly new, and it takes almost a year to two years to come up with an approved test. So we’re doing this investigational protocol to gather enough data to make this test an FDA-approved test in the future.”

According to the latest data from the CDC, there have been 79 zika cases in Georgia and 31 in South Carolina. Relatively few people have been diagnosed in the region, but the FDA is aggressively combating the virus.

“If there’s something that we know of and we can make an impact, let’s go ahead and institute that,” Belanger said. “And I think that’s what they’ve done. So they’re being very proactive in this case.”

Locally, Shepeard has been ahead of the curve.

“Luckily, we were in the process months earlier working on the IND protocol, so when the mandate came down, we were already four or five steps ahead of the rest of our counterparts,” Belanger said.

The precaution does come at a cost.

“We’re looking at about $11 increase per unit,” he said.

With about 40,000 units donated annually in the CSRA, that’s going to cost Shepeard Community Blood Centers about half a million dollars in the next year.

“We’re hoping that the federal government in the future will have some type of price relief for donor centers–that’s up to Congress,” Belanger said.

Zika is now the eighth infectious disease for which blood centers are required to test.

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