NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 2, 2004

In an average year, just a single donor's tissue might slip through infected with HIV or hepatitis, but U.S. donations could be made even safer with genetic testing for the viruses, say researchers.

Researchers from the American Red Cross and Puget Sound Blood Center/Northwest Tissue Center in Seattle examined infection data on tissue from 11,391 donors from five U.S. tissue banks. They found:

  • The chance of a donor's infection is about 1 in 55,000 for HIV, 1 in 34,000 for hepatitis B, and 1 in 42,000 for hepatitis C, which translates into about one infected donor a year with any of the diseases.
  • With genetic testing, the percent falls to 1 in 100,000 for hepatitis B, 1 in 173,000 for HIV, and 1 in 421,000 for hepatitis C.
  • The estimated cost of genetic testing would be $9 million -- or $5 per donated sample.

In another test, the American Red Cross concludes that genetic testing of donated blood is already helping prevent transmission of about five HIV and 56 hepatitis C cases each year.

While the Food and Drug Administration does not legally require genetic testing, blood banks are using it routinely in cooperation with the federal agency. Meanwhile, some tissue banks have already started using the test.

Source: Jeff Donn, "Study: Tests May Make Donated Tissue Safer," Las Vegas Sun, August 18, 2004; based upon Susan L. Stramer et al., "Detection of HIV-1 and HCV Infections among Antibody-Negative Blood Donors by Nucleic Acid--Amplification Testing," New England Journal of Medicine, August 19, 2004; and Shimian Zou et al., "Probability of Viremia with HBV, HCV, HIV, and HTLV among Tissue Donors in the United States," New England Journal of Medicine, August 19, 2004.


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