Travellers returning from trips abroad to northern Italy, north-eastern Greece, Serbia, or Romania are being asked to wait 28 days before giving blood, the Belgian Red Cross has said, citing fears of spreading the West Nile virus.
The West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, is a tropical disease indigenous to Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. While usually asymptomatic, around 20% of those infected get a fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhoea, or rash.
More recently, it has travelled to the old continent, with a large outbreak currently troubling health authorities in Italy. Europe has reported 55 cases of the virus in July, 42 of which are in Italy. Seven people have died as a result of West Nile virus throughout the whole transmission season this year.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is currently tracking the virus in Europe and updates its map of cases weekly, which helps determine the decisions of the Belgian Red Cross.
“It is an extremely mobile virus depending on the season, which can also affect countries such as France or Spain,” Thomas Paulus, communication manager at the Belgian Red Cross, told Belgian broadcaster RTBF.
While West Nile virus is harmless to most people who catch it, those who are in a weakened state awaiting a blood transfusion are in a particularly vulnerable state. The virus can be transmitted by blood, and those having recently travelled to areas near the Mediterranean may unwittingly be carriers of the virus.
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For this reason, the Belgian Red Cross is asking people to wait around a month before giving blood, to ensure the safety of those who require transfusions. This is an annoying development for the Red Cross, which is in desperate need of more supplies of O- and B- blood.
“We are in a delicate period, especially between mid-August and the beginning of September. For the moment, we can say that September will be critical and that a shortage is slowly starting to manifest itself,” said Paulus.
West Nile virus does not affect plasma donations, which are continuing as normal.