Ireland joins Canada in rejection of blood donors who work(ed) with monkeys

Late in 2006 we posted about a new question on Canada’s blood donor questionnaire and now it turns out that Ireland is following suit. Anyone who has handled monkeys or their bodily fluids will not be able to donate blood.

The reason is the same: the Simian Foamy virus.

It is noted that while the virus is common among those who handle monkeys, it does not cause any illness. However Dr. William Murphy, Medical National Director of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service states:

“But it (prevalence) is quite high and therefore professional monkey handlers have been excluded from donating.”

In addition to this news, the Irish Medical News reported another interesting bit of information. Those dealing with hemochromatosis (who are otherwise healthy and have donated within the past two years) are able to donate once again. With this genetic disease that effects more than 10,000 people in Ireland, the body absorbs and stores too much iron resulting in a necessary treatment of regular phlebotomies. A pilot scheme will open in 2007 for hemochromatosis donors in hopes of eventually screening the entire population. (For the USA, the Food and Drug Administration has always allowed those with hereditary hemochromatosis to donate blood, provided that the blood establishment follow procedures specific to their variance.)

With this in mind, we can hope that there will be improvement in the screening process for Simian Foamy virus so that those who have handled monkeys or their bodily fluids will not be eliminated as donors on that point alone.

3 thoughts on “Ireland joins Canada in rejection of blood donors who work(ed) with monkeys

  1. So, I’ve been reading what the Public Health Agency of Canada has written about SFV because I think this move, while very commendable and proactive as far as public health goes, maybe a bit extreme.

    I say that because what the site tells me is that doesn’t seem like we know much about the virus’ transmittance between humans, nor do we know the symptoms and long-term health effects of the disease in humans. Which is what you indicated in your post.

    They also say there is, “no evidence to suggest that SFV can be transmitted from one person to another,” and “nobody who has been tested positive for SFV infection has become ill. Over the 2 to 20 years that these infected people have been followed, nobody has become ill to date.”

    Of course its best to be safe than sorry, but really what’s then stake here? With around 18 years of tracking this virus, you would think a retrovirus woulda already done its thing, no? I guess then, not only do we have to improve the screening process for SFV, but expand our understanding of this disease before we being to over-react and prevent anyone from even breathing next to another animal from donating their blood and organs.

    … I wonder how the United States’ CDC stands on this. It doesn’t even seem like a serious disease.

  2. Right, (with the very little I know about retroviruses) it seems like it would have made itself known by now (in the current time line of research), but with the harmful effects of using contaminated blood with HIV-1, another known simian-origin retrovirus, I agree that you can’t blame them for wanting to learn more about it.

    In my quick search of the CDC website, I came across an interesting conference abstract discussing transmission of SFV via transfusion.

    In short, it seems that transfer through blood transfusion is yet to be documented and while the researchers mention that probability of transmission is low (until there is a movement for increasingly leukoreduced products at which point it will be even less) those who are known to be infected with SFV are advised to not donate.

    Here’s the abstract:

    Is Simian Foamy Virus Transmissible by Transfusion?

    Roumiana S. Boneva, A. Grindon, W. Switzer, S. Orton, W. Heneine, T. Folks, L. Chapman

    Background: CDC surveillance identified simian foamy virus (SFV) infection in 11 healthy workers occupationally exposed to nonhuman primates (NHPs). This retrovirus is common and benign in NHPs. Of the six infected workers who donated blood regularly, at least two donated after the retrospectively documented date of infection. Contamination of blood products with HIV-1, a simian-origin retrovirus also benign in its natural host, had devastating consequences. We investigated whether SFV, a highly leukocyte-associated retrovirus, can be transmitted through transfusion of blood products from infected donors.

    Methods: We identified consignees of blood products from one SFV-infected donor and are testing recipients and plasma derivatives for SFV using serology and polymerase chain reaction.

    Results: Recovered Plasma from two of six donations made between 1992 and 1997 was sent for manufacturing into plasma derivatives—some marketed internationally. Samples of one lot each of albumin and plasma protein fraction tested SFV-negative. One of nine identified transfusable blood components was discarded. Two recipients of Packed Red Cells (PRC) and Fresh Frozen Plasma, respectively, had died; their diagnoses did not implicate retroviral infection. Three recipients of PRC, Leukoreduced Red Cells (PRF), and Platelets, respectively, tested SFV-negative 19 months to seven years after transfusion. Testing of two recipients (of PRC or Platelets) is pending. Final disposition of one PRF remains undetermined.

    Conclusions: These initial results did not find evidence of SFV transmission among humans through transfusion of blood components or plasma derivatives. However, the probability of transmission in this specific setting was low and will further decrease as the blood banking community moves towards increasingly leukoreduced products. Thus, while this study continues, SFV-infected workers are advised not to donate blood or other tissues.

  3. What I know of retrovirii is that they are opportunistic pathogens. They wait until the host is immunocompromised, or other situations when they can proliferate. In the course of 20 years, I would assume someone could get sick and facilitate the SFV virus to activate and do its thing.

    Also, a bit about blood-born pathogens like HIV and simian originating diseases; I was educated that SIV mutated to become what it is now as HIV. If one is infected by SIV, it doesn’t ‘do’ anything to us, as far as symptoms…. or at least that is what was taught to me.

    Could this be the case for SFV, then? It is a retrovirus and originates in simians, like HIV. It seems like the evidence, or lack their of is pointing that way… maybe they public health services are waiting to see if a mutation in the pathogen makes it equivalent to what HIV is now in humans?

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