The Blood Center of Central Texas and pest control company ABC Home and Commercial Services announced the Bite Back! campaign May 11 to prevent mosquito-borne cases of the Zika virus in the area and inform residents of the potential effect the spread of the disease may have on the local blood supply.
“We are now entering mosquito season,” said Bobby Jenkins, CEO of ABC Home and Commercial Services. “We’ve been very blessed by lots of rain and nice, warm temperatures. Well, that is what mosquitos need. [The mosquito that can transmit Zika] is the kind of mosquito that is local. It is in your backyard.”
He said mosquitos are the largest transmitter of disease on the planet, and the mosquito associated with the Zika virus—the Aedes mosquito—bites all day as opposed to being active only at certain times of the day.
As of May 12 the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 33 confirmed cases of the Zika virus, including two in Travis County. The Williamson County and Cities Health District confirmed one travel-related Zika virus case in Williamson County on May 10.
Since February, 130 prospective blood donors in the Austin area have been deferred because of new Federal Drug Administration guidelines to screen blood donor applicants for the Zika virus, said Marshall Cothran, CEO of The Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas. The center needs about 200 donors a day to keep up with demand, he said.
“That may not sound like a lot and it hasn’t put us in a crisis situation yet,” Cothran said. “But I will tell you we are beginning to struggle to keep up with that 200-donor-a-day daily demand. Just take three, four or five [donors] off of that and you are starting to struggle.”
In February, the FDA required all blood centers to ask whether prospective donors had traveled to an area where the Zika virus is active, engaged in sexual activity with a partner who had done so or exhibits symptoms of the virus, including high fever, chills, body aches and/or conjunctivitis, said Marian Garrard, chief operating officer of The Blood Center of Central Texas. Those who have are deferred from donating blood for 28 days after returning to the U.S., she said.
Cothran said the agency’s blood supply usually slows down in the summer since high school blood drive donors—who account for 20 percent of the area’s blood donations annually—are out of school as well as other regular donors who may be traveling or on vacation.
The supply is affected even further by potential donors who may think they have been exposed to the Zika virus when they have not, prompting these individuals to not donate blood, he said.
“Unless you know that you have been to a travel area where you could be exposed to Zika, don’t defer yourself,” Cothran said. "Come in. We’ll let you know if you’re not eligible.”
Although Central Texas has not been designated as an active transmission area for the Zika virus, the region’s blood supply could be affected if it were declared as such, Garrard said. The designation would require donor blood samples to be tested before use and could include prohibiting blood donations from individuals in certain ZIP codes and counties with a high number of affected individuals, she said.
“One [mosquito-borne transmission] is probably not going to make them trigger [testing blood donor samples]," Garrard said. "If you started seeing more ... that’s when we would have to trigger on testing.”