Bacterial screening of platelet components by National Health Service Blood and Transplant, an effective risk reduction measure

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Bacterial contamination of blood components remains a major cause of sepsis in transfusion medicine. Between 2006 and 2010 in the 5 years before the introduction of bacterial screening of platelet (PLT) components by National Health Service Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), seven cases of PLT component–associated transmission of bacterial infection were recorded for 10 patients, three of which were fatal.


Sampling of individual PLT components was undertaken at 36 to 48 hours after donation and tested in the BacT/ALERT system with 8 mL inoculated into each of aerobic and anaerobic culture bottles. Bottles were incubated until the end of the 7-day shelf life and initial reactive bottles were examined for contamination. Bacterial screened time-expired PLTs were tested as in the screen method.


From February 2011 to September 2015, a total of 1,239,029 PLT components were screened. Initial-reactive, confirmed-positive, and false-positive rates were 0.37, 0.03, and 0.19%, respectively. False-negative cultures, all with Staphylococcus aureus, occurred on four occasions; three were visually detected before transfusion and one confirmed transmission resulted in patient morbidity. The NHSBT screening protocol effectively reduced the number of clinically adverse transfusion transmissions by 90% in this reporting period, compared to a similar time period before implementation. Delayed testing of 4515 time-expired PLT units after screening revealed no positives.


The implementation of bacterial screening of PLT components with the NHSBT BacT/ALERT protocol was an effective risk reduction measure and increased the safety of the blood supply.

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