Thalassemia patients are treated with red blood cells that are transfused intravenously every 2-4 weeks in a hospital setting. Thalassemia patients require this blood throughout their lives.
Issues related to the safety and supply of red blood cells directly concern thalassemia patients. In Canada, the blood supply today is safer than it ever has been, but 100% safety cannot be guaranteed. Blood-borne pathogens or a drop in blood supply could potentially affect a thalassemia patient.
Blood-borne pathogens (Viral diseases)
HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) is a blood-borne pathogen and a sexually-transmitted disease. From 1978 to 1985, there was a peak in contamination of the blood supply with HIV. Screening for HIV in the blood supply began in November, 1985. Since then, HIV infections via the blood supply have been rare.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver and can be caused by many factors including viral infection.
Hepatitis B is a blood-borne pathogen and a sexually-transmitted disease. A vaccine for hepatitis B is available and should be given to blood recipients, especially Thalassemia patients, prior to transfusion. Each province and territory in Canada carries out a large scale immunization program for hepatitis B, and the blood supply has been tested. Currently, the risk of getting hepatitis B from a blood transfusion is around 1 in 60,000.
Hepatitis C virus is a blood-borne pathogen transmitted through blood to blood contact. A peak in hepatitis C transmission via the blood supply occurred in the mid-to-late 1980’s. After first-generation testing for hepatitis C began in 1990, the transmission of hepatitis C via the blood supply dropped significantly. Now, there is a new test known as Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing (NAT), which has brought the estimated risk of transmission to less than 1 in 500,000.
TTV (Transfusion-transmitted Virus)
Canadian Blood Supply
Canadian patients living with thalassemia have the proud distinction of being well-treated, but have seen the chronic blood shortages experienced by their peers in other countries. Along with the potential for contamination, Canadian thalassemia patients may worry about uncertainty of Canada’s blood supply – their connection to life.
The Thalassemia Foundation of Canada believes that Canada’s blood system follows the principle that safety is paramount. TFC hopes that the system will continue to be evaluated and maintained with all users in mind – from the nurses who collect blood and technicians who cross and type the blood, to the federal regulator who inspects and polices the system. Thalassemia patients don’t have an alternative, and need an effective and efficient system.