Is donor blood infected?

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E found in donated blood

A new study has discovered that around 1,200 people in England are infected with the hepatitis E virus (HEV) through receiving donor blood.

Although symptoms will not be noticeable, it can cause liver damage and can occasionally be fatal, with the Lancet medical journal research revealing that one in 3,000 blood donations were found to be contaminated. Hepatitis E tends to be mild, however it can cause particular problems for pregnant women.

Researchers from Public Health England analysed 225,000 blood donations in the South East of England to estimate the scale of the national problem.

Infection

Prof Richard Tedder, from Public Health England, who believes donor blood doesn’t need to be screened, told BBC News “The infections are widespread in the English population, including blood donors. Although rarely causing any acute illness, hepatitis E infections may become persistent in immunosuppressed patients, putting them at risk of future chronic liver disease, and a policy is needed to identify these persistently infected patients and provide them with appropriate antiviral treatment. However, our study indicates that the overall burden of harm resulting from transfusion-transmitted HEV is slight.”

Prof Jean-Michel Pawlotsky, from the Universite Paris-Est in France, said “The potential clinical results of blood-borne HEV infection should not be downplayed, in particular, the risk of serious complications and death exists. I believe that systematic screening of blood components for markers of hepatitis E infection should be implemented.”

Lorna Williamson, the medical director for NHS Blood and Transplant said “These study findings contribute to our overall understanding of hepatitis E and are an important part of the research that helps NHSBT to make blood transfusions as safe as possible for the patients who need them. The majority of patients followed up have now cleared the HEV infection and any remaining patients are being followed up. We now expect the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO), which advises UK ministers and health departments, to review the study results.”

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