West Nile Virus: Héma-Québec implements measures to ensure the safety of this summer’s blood supply

Montréal, June 25, 2004 - Héma-Québec confirms the continuation of the action plan it developed last year to counter the effects of the West Nile Virus on Québec's blood reserve. It should be noted that, last summer, Héma-Québec introduced a test to detect the presence of the virus in all donated blood. Since June 25, 2003, all blood components produced by Héma-Québec are tested for the presence of WNV. No positive cases have been found to date.

In addition to continuing to test all blood donations, a supplementary measure will be taken as of August 2004 to further ensure the safety of the blood reserve. Héma-Québec plans to individually analyze each blood sample collected in the regions most affected by WNV, according to regional public health directorates or the prevalence of donors infected by WNV. Consequently, all blood donations will be individually analyzed in regions with a high prevalence of WNV.

Also, the screening procedure generally used on sample pools in North America will be maintained in regions where few or no cases of human infection have been signalled. This procedure consists of combining the samples of six donors and carrying out a screening test on the sample pool. Enough blood can be quickly and efficiently analyzed using this procedure to meet the demand for blood products. Should a blood donation be found to be infected by WNV, the corresponding donor will be informed of the results and the infection will be reported to public health authorities. The infected blood will then be destroyed.

Moreover, Héma-Québec works closely with hospital centres and regional public health directorates, which inform Héma-Québec if a patient infected by WNV donated or received blood shortly before the onset of symptoms. In the case where the blood components at issue have not yet been transfused, Héma-Québec will take the necessary steps to have them withdrawn from circulation.

Furthermore, since January 2004, Héma-Québec has built up its inventory of frozen plasma products. These products can be used without danger starting in July since they were collected at a time when the virus was not circulating.

Following the example of other North American blood suppliers, Héma-Québec nurses will ask, starting July 19, all those donating blood an additional question to find out whether they have experienced a combination of fever and headache in the seven days previous to donating blood. In the event of a positive response, the donors will be excluded for a period of 55 days. Héma-Québec also asks donors to signal any illness or particular WNV symptom they may develop in the weeks following their donation, in which case their blood will be withdrawn from the inventory.

Once again this year, a special telephone line - 1 877 VNO-HÉMA (1 877 866-4362) has been set up for people with questions about the effects of WNV on blood.

Héma-Québec monitors the situation on a continual basis and works with Québec and Canadian public health officials as well as with Canadian Blood Services. It should be noted that last year, the first cases of WNV transmission to humans (by mosquitoes) did not appear in Québec before August 2003. No WNV infection resulted from blood transfusions in Québec last summer.

It should also be noted that donors cannot contract WNV by giving blood. It is therefore important for Quebeckers to continue to give blood generously at the blood donor clinics organized throughout Québec this summer. Each year the need for blood increases during the summer season. This summer, Héma-Québec hopes to welcome more than 7,000 donors per week to meet the needs of hospitals.

Created in September 1998, Héma-Québec's mission is to efficiently provide adequate quantities of safe, optimal blood components, substitutes and human tissues to meet the needs of all Quebeckers; and to provide and develop expertise and services, along with specialized and innovative products, in the fields of transfusion medicine and human tissue transplantation.

-30-

Questions and answers