Description of 15 DNA-positive and antibody-negative “window-period” blood donations identified during prospective screening forBabesia microti

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Blood donation screening detecting only antibodies fails to identify donors in the earliest stage of infection, before a detectable immunologic response, that is, the “window period” (WP). We present data on WP donations identified during prospective screening for Babesia microti, a transfusion-transmissible parasite of increasing concern in the United States.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS:

Blood donations collected in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin were screened using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and arrayed fluorescence immunoassay (AFIA) to detect B. microti DNA and antibodies, respectively. Parasite loads were estimated using quantitative PCR. Red blood cell (RBC) samples were inoculated into hamsters to assess infectivity. Donors screening reactive were indefinitely deferred, tested by supplemental methods, and followed to assess DNA and antibody clearance. Demographic data from WP donors (i.e., those screening PCR positive and AFIA negative) were compared to data from other positive donors.

RESULTS:

Of 220,479 donations screened from June 2012 to August 2016, a total of 700 were positive, of which 15 (2% of positive donations or 1 per 14,699 screened donations) were confirmed WP donations. The median estimated parasite load in WP donations was 350 parasites/mL, no different than AFIA-positive and PCR-positive donors. Parasite loads in RBC samples from WP units ranged from 14 to 11,022 parasites/mL; RBC samples from three of 10 (30%) WP donations infected hamsters. The mean age of WP donors was 48 years (range, 17–75 years); three (20%) were female. WP donor demographics did not differ significantly from demographics of other donors.

CONCLUSIONS:

We report one per 15,000 B. microti WP infections in blood donors in endemic areas, demonstrating the importance of nucleic acid testing to mitigate the risk of transfusion-transmitted babesiosis.

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