Kochi: Leading medical and blood transfusion experts have emphasised the urgent need to introduce Nucleic Acid Amplification Technology (NAT) test across Kerala’s blood screening facilities and hospitals to enable access to ‘safe blood’ and contain the challenge of transfusion-transmitted infections (TTIs).
A panel of experts including Dr Abraham Varghese, medical officer, IMA Blood Bank, Kochi; Dr Susheela J. Innah, HoD, clinical lab and blood bank, Jubilee Mission Medical College & Research Institute, Thrissur and Dr Sandeep Sewlikar, head - medical and scientific affairs, Roche Diagnostics, opined that NAT is needed as it directly detects the genetic material (RNA & DNA) of the infecting organism or virus namely HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
In the absence of the test, those who receive blood contract these diseases.
“NAT is the most sensitive technique for detection of infections in the donated blood. So the window period - the time between when a patient is infected and when they show up as positive by the routine mandatory antigen/ antibody tests - is shortened. TTIs could be reduced by 80 percent in NAT with the window period coming down.
The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) had reported that between September 2014 and March 2016, 89 contracted HIV from blood transfusions in Kerala,” they said.
“Many hospitals/ blood banks in the country and the state are yet to install the NAT facility. Government records show that approximately 20,592 people across the country contracted HIV due to blood transfusions since 2007. Out of the total blood collected in the State, it is estimated that 0.5-1% blood may be infected,” they said.
The panel also spoke about encouraging voluntary blood donation as it is also a means of reducing/minimising the risk of TTIs.
Dr Abraham Varghese said that in Kerala, there are approximately 160 blood banks/ blood collection facilities. Out of which only 1-2% have NAT facility.
“It becomes absolutely important to have mandatory blood screening through advanced techniques like NAT while encouraging voluntary blood donations since about 70% blood donations come through a replacement or from family donors. It is observed that the rate of infections is higher in replacement donors,” he said
“While it is important to gauge the extent of infections like HIV through blood transfusion, it is also important that we take into cognisance the extent of the negative impact such infections have on every person who gets infected. They come for transfusion for an existing ailment, and go back with another, which increases their cost of treatment and reduces their productivity,” he said.
“Considering that every unit of blood (when broken up into blood components) can be useful to three recipients, our responsibility correspondingly increases.
Infected blood can lead to TTIs like HIV, Hepatitis B (HBV) & Hepatitis C (HCV),” said Dr Susheela J. Innah.