Thalassemia patients, already afflicted by a serious disorder, could be at the risk of contacting life-threatening infections such as Hepatitis-B or HIV owing to the transfusion of infected blood within the window period. However, the risk is very minute, ranging from zero to five per cent, say experts.
The risk haunts not only Thalassemics, but anybody who must receive blood immediately after collection. However, Thalassemia patients are more at risk as they not only require blood transfusion at regular intervals, but need it done ideally within five days of collection.
It leaves no room for preserving the blood till infections are ruled out.
Thalassemia is a genetic disorder of blood, the patients of which will survive only through periodical blood transfusions.
“Our experience shows that only two to five per cent of cases account for transmission of Hepatits-B infection, while the risk of HIV infection through blood transfusion is less than one per cent,” says Aleem Baig, General Secretary of the Thalassemia and Sickle Cell Society.
While the figures are not all that alarming, noteworthy is the fact that there is little scope for detecting the infections within the window period—duration after the infection, till antibodies are produced.
Human body needs a minimum of three months to produce antibodies against the infections, on the presence of which alone the conventional diagnosis depends, informs P.Sujatha, Joint Director, APSACS.
However, the window period can be reduced drastically by employing either of the two diagnostic techniques namely Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) or Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. While the NAAT reduces the window period to 72 hours after the donor's exposure to risk, PCR further cuts it down to 24 hours.
Unfortunately, neither of these diagnostic facilities is available in government hospitals or blood banks of the city, Dr.Sujatha points out.
The APSACS is, nevertheless, considering installation of NAAT facility at the tertiary level government hospitals, after which the test will be made mandatory in blood banks, she informs. Setting up of PCR facility is ruled out because the cost for each instance of testing would be very high.
Setting up the NAAT facility is also quite expensive costing anywhere between Rs.One crore and Rs.1.5 crore.
Out of a total of 7.24 lakh units of blood screened last year, only 0.24 per cent was found to be HIV infected, which is insignificant, she says.
“Instead, we are advocating honesty from donors in confessing to any instance of risky behaviour during the preceding days. It could range from any incident of unprotected sex to narcotic abuse, or even drunken revelry during which one is more prone to exposure. Blood from these persons can be avoided to rule out risk,” adds Dr. Sujatha.