“Efforts are under way to find effective tests for the virus and determine its prevalence, led by a working group funded by the National Institutes of Health and including federal agencies such as the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” according to an article by Amy Dockser Marcus posted April 4 on WSJ.com. “Blood banks, academic institutions and at least one advocacy group are also involved.” (Meanwhile, alerted to the issues, Canada announced a ban on CFS patient blood donations.)
In a well-balanced, very informative piece, Dockser Marcus explains XMRV research to date, issues regarding viral incidence and public health significance, and questions to be addressed regarding transfusions & the blood supply in particular.
As she reports, the Federal XMRV Working Group’s project involves two, and perhaps three phases.
1. Analysis to identify which of various current tests may be “sensitive and reliable enough” to identify evidence of XMRV in blood. And “results are expected in a few weeks.”
2. Sending hundreds of blinded blood samples for testing to each of four labs. Some samples from ME/CFS patients ‘known’ to have XMRV, some healthy donor samples ‘spiked with the virus’ and other healthy donor samples tested negative. The question: to what extent will the different labs’ findings agree?
3. If indicated, testing frozen federal blood specimens dating as far back as the ‘70s that link the blood donor to the blood recipients. Then if evidence of XMRV is found in a donor sample, testing the recipient’s sample.
In the broader context of blood supply testing and safety, Dockser Marcus notes that in the US donated blood is currently subjected to 12 screening tests (e.g., for HIV & hepatitis C). She provides an interesting chart regarding emerging infectious diseases with potential to pose a risk to the blood supply, one being the Lyme spirochete Borrelia burdorferi (little evidence of risk but high public concern).