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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 RNA Detected in Blood Donations

Our take —

RNA testing on samples from the Wuhan Blood Center in China during the height of the epidemic identified positive test results among presumed healthy donors. Surveillance is critical during a pandemic to promote epidemic control. The absence of positive testing of donations from February at this Wuhan site may represent local epidemic control. However, rates of blood donations in the targeted months compared to historical time periods were not provided, findings were from healthy donors, and infectivity among positive samples cannot be assumed; these results are thus not reflective of prevalence estimates.

Study design

Cross-Sectional

Study population and setting

Real-time reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR) for SARS-CoV-2 RNA was performed on all blood donations collected at the Wuhan Blood Center. By March 4th, 2430 donations had been screened in real-time, as well as retrospective testing of 4995 donations collected between December 1, 2019, and January 22, 2020.

Summary of Main Findings

Overall, four donors with positive RNA samples were identified and tested multiple times; no antibodies (IgG or IgM) against SARS-CoV-2 were detected by ELISA, indicative of early states of potential infection. Testing suggested viral RNA is relatively stable in plasma. Thirty-three additional donors were identified telephonically to have fever and corresponding samples were discarded. No infections were identified from donations given after late January and there were no known onward transmissions from blood donations.

Study Strengths

Comprehensively screened samples from a presumably healthy population in Wuhan, China, during the epidemic provide important surveillance insights. Identified positive results were re-tested with additional samples and were followed up.

Limitations

Detailed follow-up information on all identified positive donors was not available. Furthermore, detectable RNA virus may not represent infectivity or infectiousness. Plasma samples were not stored at -20° Celsius. No historical comparisons of the number of blood donations were available, and those donating during an outbreak may differ from typical donors.

Value added

This is the first report from large-scale testing from a blood bank in a SARS-CoV-2 hotspot. Although there is no evidence to-date of transmission from blood transfusions, these data reinforce the importance of testing.