What are transfusion-transmitted diseases?

Updated: Jan 15, 2017
  • Author: Mudassar Zia, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Answer

Answer

Blood transfusion has been and continues to be a possible source of disease transmission. A myriad of agents can potentially be transmitted through blood transfusions, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Of these, bacteria are the most commonly transmitted.

Viral agents that are capable of being transmitted through blood transfusion include the following:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

  • West Nile virus (WNV)

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

  • Human T-cell lymphotrophic viruses (HTLVs)

  • Parvovirus B19

Protozoal organisms that can be passed on through transfusion include species of the genus Plasmodium, which cause malaria.

Prions, which cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, are also transmissible through transfusion; they cannot be destroyed using current techniques for inactivating pathogens in the blood supply.

Despite the potential for disease transmission through transfused blood, the safety of the blood supply in the United States continues to improve and, in fact, is the greatest that it has ever been. As we manage to control the known threats, however, new challenges will continue to arrive. Careful donor selection, vigilant screening, lookback programs, inactivation of pathogens, and continuous efforts to develop new techniques for screening and inactivation will be required to make blood products, and thus blood transfusions, continually safe.


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