Indiana seeing impact of Zika virus on blood donations

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- As the Zika virus epidemic makes its way to the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization for the first commercial test to diagnose Zika, but the test isn’t cheap or quick enough to help struggling blood donor numbers.

Instead, the Indiana Blood Center must continue turning away anyone who’s recently traveled to a Zika-infected country. Now, staff there are worried that what began as a small drop in the number of donors is now bigger than they ever expected.

“The impact of Zika virus on the blood supply has been tremendous,” said Public Relations and Marketing Director Andrea Fagan.

Inside the Indiana Blood Center fridge, the shortage is visible. Fagan says this is just the beginning.

“This will continue through mid-May into June,” said Fagan. “And of course people go on vacation all the time, so we're going to see this continue.”

With no cheap, quick way to test blood for Zika, the center has to turn away anyone who's traveled to a Zika-infected area in the last 28 days, meaning more deferrals for people traveling on high school and college spring breaks.

“We did a lot of pre-education with our high school and university drive hosts to ask them to please donate before you break,” said Fagan. “We're seeing the impact now of people who didn't or who weren't able to come in and donate.”

All of those deferrals led to huge drops in donation numbers and available blood for people in critical need.

“This is very much a human impact,” said Fagan. “This is a living donor to a living patient. So when we don't have the blood products that patients need, they suffer.”

To better understand how dire the situation is, Fagan recounted one drive earlier this week.

The blood center planned to see 180 students. About half self-deferred because of travel. Blood center workers had to turn another 40 away for the same reason. In all, less than a third of the donations expected to come from that drive were collected.

“When that continues day after day, it begins to add up and that's where we are right now,” said Fagan.

To get people through the doors and help fill up some of these empty shelves, the blood center is offering incentives this weekend.

For anyone who hasn’t been to a Zika-infected area and can donate blood, the center is offering a $10 Wal-Mart gift card to everyone who donates. On Saturday and Monday, they’re giving away free movie tickets.

For a list of blood center locations or to schedule an appointment, click here.

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