The Seattle Sperm Bank, Pacific Northwest Fertility and Bloodworks Northwest are all agencies that have put precautions in place to defer donors who have traveled to places where Zika virus is spreading.

Share story

A Seattle sperm bank has deferred a potential donor who traveled to an area where Zika virus is spreading, part of growing new precautions aimed at keeping U.S. blood and tissue supplies safe.

A young man who visited his family in South America was asked to wait one month after travel under a new protocol by the Seattle Sperm Bank, said Angelo Allard, general supervisor.

The new rules immediately followed a Feb. 2 report that a Dallas patient had been infected with the virus through sex, rather than mosquito bite, Allard said in an email.

“These steps were taken without any mandate from the government, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or any other health agency,” said Allard, whose bank collects specimens from 150 donors each month.

But local and national health agencies have been taking additional steps to ensure that blood, sperm and any other tissues — including those used for reproductive services — remain free of the virus linked to rare and devastating birth defects.

The FDA this week advised that people who have traveled recently to places where Zika virus is circulating should wait a month before donating blood. The guideline also applies to anyone with symptoms of Zika infection or those who’ve had sex with a person who has lived or traveled in Zika-prone places in the past three months.

Officials at Bloodworks Northwest, which oversees regional blood donations, said they’ll distribute information about risk factors for and symptoms of Zika infection, as well as areas where transmission is active. About 2 percent of the population may be deferred, they said.

The risk of blood transmission of Zika virus is considered likely, based on evidence about how the virus is spread and reports of infections linked to transfusions elsewhere in the world, FDA officials said. Zika virus clears from the blood in about 28 days.

Additional guidance covering human cells, tissues and associated products are expected to be issued soon, the FDA said. But officials at Pacific Northwest Fertility already have implemented new rules for egg donors, said Dr. Lorna Marshall, a reproductive endocrinologist with the center.

“We basically provide donors with a list of what at this point is considered a Zika virus zone,” she said. “They must sign a consent saying they haven’t traveled to or had sex with someone from those areas for 12 months.”

It’s just a precaution, Marshall added. Unlike sperm, which can harbor Zika virus for months, eggs haven’t been associated with viral transmission, she noted.

Zika virus has been detected in more than 30 countries, mostly in Latin America. In Brazil, the mosquito-borne virus has been strongly linked to reports of more than 4,700 cases of microcephaly, a birth defect in which infants have unusually small heads and brain damage.

So far, there’s no mosquito-based transmission of Zika in the U.S., although 84 cases in people infected during travel abroad have been confirmed.

More than 50 cases of suspected Zika virus infection in Washington state travelers have been identified and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for testing, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state epidemiologist for communicable disease.

So far, however, none has come back positive.

“We just have not seen them yet,” Lindquist said.