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Central Texas blood banks concerned about Zika

The Blood Center of Central Texas has turned away about 130 donors since February. Those donors were people who traveled to or had sexual contact with others who had visited a Zika-infected country. (KEYE TV)

Central Texas blood banks are concerned about the Zika virus. Zika has not been transmitted locally by any mosquitoes in Texas, but some blood banks worry it's only a matter of time. If or when that happens, they know Zika could impact the safety and sufficiency of our blood supply.

The Blood Center of Central Texas has turned away about 130 donors since February. Those donors were people who traveled to or had sexual contact with others who had visited a Zika-infected country. The blood bank's deferral list started out asking people if they'd been to four known-Zika areas. However, that deferral list is growing by the week as more areas become infected.

Wednesday, Scott Huntley was donating platelets at the Blood Center of Central Texas. He's been a loyal donor for decades.

"Back many years ago, I had a friend of mine who asked me to donate for his father," explains Huntley. He says, he started donating in 1982 and has been coming back ever since. "After a while it just gets to be routine," Huntley says.

Blood centers often struggle keeping up with demand. Currently, blood type O Negative is in short supply. The Blood Center worries how much more supply will be impacted if mosquitos start transmitting Zika locally.

"The biggest concern we have is not what we know but what we don't know," says Marshall Cothran, CEO at The Blood Center of Central Texas.

He explains, currently there's no test blood banks can use to screen for the virus. "We can't test for it today, but fortunately today there have been no mosquito borne transmissions so we're racing against time," Cothran says.

The new "Bite Back" campaign launching Monday is geared toward educating Central Texans about the mosquitoes that transmit Zika. "This is the kind of mosquito that is local. It is in your backyard," says Bobby Jenkins, owner of ABC Home and Commercial Services.

Jenkins says, prevention will take renters and homeowners working together. "They're going to have to take some type of action in their own environment," Jenkins adds. It's action that won't just fight off mosquito borne viruses-- but will keep donations pumping in central Texas.

"There's a lot of restrictions on blood donors. I think Zika is just going to be another one," says Huntley.

The Blood Center is pushing to get donors in now but the need never goes away since blood only has a shelf life of about six weeks.

The Blood Center has implemented travel deferrals for anyone who has traveled to: Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Central America, American Samoa, Fiji, Kosrae (Federate States of Micronesia), Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tonga, Cape Verde, Papua New Guinea in the last 28 days. Donors will be eligible to donate blood again 28 days from the date of their return to the United States.

If you're unsure whether or not you're eligible to give blood for health or travel reasons, visit The Blood Center of Central Texas at 4300 North Lamar Blvd. and they will tell you.


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