Screening blood donations for Zika virus (ZIKV) in the United States is costly with low yield, according to a study published in New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers implemented investigational screening of donated blood for ZIKV RNA with transcription-mediated amplification (TMA).

Repeat TMA, TMA testing in exploratory mini pools, real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, immunoglobulin M (IgM) serologic testing, and red-cell TMA were performed as confirmatory testing of reactive donations.

Because of the potential severe clinical consequences of Zika virus (ZIKV) infection, the large numbers of asymptomatic travelers returning from ZIKV-active areas, the detection of ZIKV nucleic acid in blood, and reports of transmission of ZIKV through transfusion, in 2016 the Food and Drug Administration released recommendations for individual-unit nucleic acid testing to minimize the risk of transmission of ZIKV through blood transfusions.

The American Red Cross implemented investigational screening of donated blood for ZIKV RNA by means of transcription-mediated amplification (TMA). Confirmatory testing of reactive donations involved repeat TMA, TMA testing in exploratory mini pools, real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, IgM serologic testing, and red-cell TMA.

Zika virus (ZIKV) infection

Viral loads in plasma and red cells were estimated by means of end-point TMA. The costs of interdicting a donation that was confirmed to be positive were calculated for the 15-month period between June 2016 and September 2017.

Of the 4,325,889 donations that were screened, 393,713 (9%) were initially tested in 24,611 mini-pools, and no reactive donations were found. Of the 3,932,176 donations that were subsequently tested individually, 160 were initially reactive and 9 were confirmed positive (a 1:480,654 confirmed-positive rate overall; positive predictive value, 5.6%; specificity, 99.997%). Six (67%) of the confirmed-positive donations were reactive on repeat TMA, of which 4 were IgM-negative; of these 4, all 3 that could be tested were reactive on mini pool TMA.

Two confirmed-positive donors had infections that had been transmitted locally (in Florida), 6 had traveled to ZIKV-active areas, and 1 had received an experimental ZIKV vaccine. ZIKV RNA levels in red cells ranged from 40 to 800,000 copies per milliliter and were detected up to 154 days after donation, as compared with 80 days of detection in plasma at levels of 12 to 20,000 copies per milliliter.

On the basis of industry-reported costs of testing and the yield of the tests in our study, the cost of identifying 8 mosquito-borne ZIKV infections through individual-unit nucleic acid testing was $5.3 million per ZIKV RNA–positive donation.

Screening of U.S. blood donations for ZIKV by individual-donation TMA was costly and had a low yield. Among the 9 confirmed ZIKV-positive donations, only 4 were IgM-negative; of these donations, all 3 that were tested were reactive on minipool TMA. (Funded by the American Red Cross and Grifols Diagnostic Solutions.)