Are Zika Blood Tests Worth the Cost?

Zika blood testing could emulate HIV, West Nile, and hepatitis processes

donating blood with the ARC

The rapid spreading of the Zika virus spurred an international public health emergency in 2015.

There were 85 countries or territories reporting new Zika cases.

In February 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that donated blood collection ceases in areas where Zika was active unless the blood was tested.

This FDA screening strategy came at a cost, without a known return-on-investment (ROI).

The screening program designed to keep the Zika virus out of the American Red Cross’s blood supply appears to be very expensive, with minimal ROI, according to a new study.

The American Red Cross (ARC) implemented the Procleix Zika Virus Assay in group blood testing on June 20, 2016.

After the identification of the first Zika cases from local mosquito transmission in Florida, the ARC converted from group to individual-donation tests for blood collected in Florida.

Later, the ARC extended individual blood test to all U.S. collections.

Over 4,325,889 blood donations were tested for Zika, but only 8 infected donations were identified, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This Zika screening program was operated by the American Red Cross between June 2016 and September 2017, at a cost of approximately $41.7 million over the 15-month study.

Which means each positive mosquito-borne Zika detections cost about $5.3 million, or $21 million for each of 2 donors, without travel risk.

In conclusion, this study found the individual screening of U.S. blood donations for Zika virus produced a low yield, and at a high cost, said these researchers.

Which led these researchers to suggest transitioning Zika blood testing from individual to group pools, to significantly reduce overall costs.

By implementing this testing change, the ARC would bring Zika blood screening into its normal testing process for HIV, West Nile Virus, and hepatitis B / C.

Separately, during April 2018, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) updated its Zika testing guidance for asymptomatic pregnant women.

“Routine testing provides important information to women about their pregnancies,” said DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt. “It also increases the opportunity for public health to identify infections before Zika establishes itself in Texas, so we can respond quickly.”

This study was a collaboration between the American Red Cross and Grifols Diagnostic Solutions. The study was supported by internal funds of the American Red Cross with FDA-approved cost recovery. These authors vouch for the accuracy and completeness of the data and analyses presented.