Hospital in hot water over HIV case

Bumrungrad admits transfusion the cause

People donate blood at the National Blood Centre of the Thai Red Cross Society in Bangkok. (File photo)

The Thai Red Cross Society confirmed on Friday that its procedures for collecting and dispensing blood are in line with global standards, as fears of HIV/Aids being accidentally transmitted by the organisation have skyrocketed in the wake of a disclosure by a leading hospital in Bangkok.

Bumrungrad International Hospital issued a statement on Thursday claiming one of its patient had become infected with the autoimmune disease from blood given by the society, the country's top blood donor.

The Thai Red Cross said that while it followed world best practices, there is a ''window period", usually in the first several weeks, during which a donor may have contracted the disease but it is not yet detectable.

It claimed there was no technology in the world able to detect the disease at such an early stage, and urged donors to inform officials of the truth if they have engaged in any risky behavior in the weeks prior to donating.

Dr Charuporn Promwong, deputy director of society's National Blood Centre, said all blood donors must fill in a questionnaire to ensure they do not belong to any prohibited groups that would render them ineligible.

He said the questionnaire is followed by a face-to-face interview to weed out any potentially suspect donors, after which all blood samples are medically tested by an advanced computer system in a lab to ensure they are not contaminated by sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/Aids, hepatitis B (HBV) or C (HCV), or syphilis.

All disease-free samples are then sent to hospitals around the nation within 24 hours for further testing, Dr Charuporn said.

Yet she conceded that while the tests -- known as nucleic acid amplification and serology are world class -- there is always a risk due to the early incubation period of the diseases: one week for HIV or three to 27 days for hepatitis.

"There is a possible of risk within the window period, but the chance of it happening is very low," she said, adding the probability of being hit by a vehicle while crossing the road was much higher.

"This is only the second I've heard of in the last 40 years," she noted.

"We follow the absolute highest standards," Dr Charuporn said. "The key takeaway here is that donors must be totally honest when answering our questions."

She cited US statistics showing the rate of HIV/Aids infections from blood donations was one per 1.7 million samples, or 1: 1.6 million for HBV and 1: 260,000 for HCV.

Regarding the infected Bumrungrad patient, she said the blood was donated about a decade ago when the technology was not as foolproof as it is today. She said it would take some time to figure out who was responsible as it could have come from any of 100 donors.

However she confirmed that all of the blood samples sent to Bumrungrad had successfully passed all of the laboratory tests.

The hospital said on Thursday a male patient had received treatment for leukaemia in 2004, including a blood donation from the Thai Red Cross that had been checked and approved by the Bangkok-based HIV Netherlands Australia Thailand Research Collaboration (HIV-NAT).

Bumrungrad, a private hospital in downtown Bangkok, said it had provided the infected patient with medical treatment worth over 1 million baht free of charge.

Its management said the hospital would continue to provide treatment for the unfortunate patient in the future, in line with its code of ethics.

It said blood recipients are notified of the risk before a blood transfusion is carried out, adding the patient was nine years old when he was first treated in 2004.

Meanwhile, HIV/Aids activists welcomed last month the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of home HIV testing kits.

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