Is HIV-Screened Blood Safe?

BY AWAKE! WRITER IN NIGERIA

▪ THIS question came to the fore in Nigeria when it was found that a baby girl was infected with HIV through a blood transfusion she received at one of Nigeria’s leading hospitals.

According to the hospital’s medical director, soon after Eniola’s birth, she was found to be jaundiced. An exchange blood transfusion was prescribed, and the father donated some units of blood. But the father’s blood was found to be incompatible, so blood from the hospital’s blood bank was administered. Before long, the baby tested positive for HIV, though both parents tested negative. According to the hospital, “the blood transfused into the baby was screened and found to be HIV-negative at the time it was transfused into the baby.”

How, then, did the baby get infected? The Nigerian government investigated the controversy and concluded that the likely source of the infection was the transfused blood. The Nigerian Tribune newspaper quoted a virologist as saying: “At the time of donating the blood, the donor was at the window period of HIV infection.”

This is but a single case, yet it highlights the fact that blood transfusions are not risk free. Describing the HIV window period, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: “It can take some time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the antibody test to detect and this time period can vary from person to person. This time period is commonly referred to as the ‘window period’. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within 2 to 8 weeks (the average is 25 days). Even so, there is a chance that some individuals will take longer to develop detectable antibodies. . . . In very rare cases, it can take up to 6 months.”

So, the fact that blood has been screened for HIV is no guarantee that it is safe. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation warns: “Although HIV may not be detected by a test during the window period, HIV can be transmitted during that time. In fact, individuals are often most infectious during this time (shortly after they have been exposed to HIV).”

Jehovah’s Witnesses have long followed the Bible’s direction to “keep abstaining from . . . blood.” (Acts 15:29) The protection this has afforded them underscores the wisdom of obeying God’s instructions. To learn more about alternatives to blood transfusion, please see the brochure How Can Blood Save Your Life? *

[Footnote]

^ par. 8 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.