Blood tests under scrutiny

Hospitals around Greece were yesterday ordered to update their methods for screening blood after it emerged that a 17-year-old girl and 76-year-old man contracted HIV from the blood of an infected donor. Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos held an urgent press conference to explain that the government would be spending some 30 million euros to ensure that Greek hospitals had the equipment necessary to conduct up-to-date checks on blood. The announcement came after the ministry confirmed a report that the two sufferers had contracted the virus last year after being given infected blood supplied by a 38-year-old man. The 17-year-old received regular blood transfusions at Ippocrateio Hospital in Thessaloniki as she suffered from anemia. The 76-year-old was given the blood during surgery at the city’s Interbalkan Medical Center. The donor had contracted HIV only a few days before giving blood and as a result his sample slipped through the tests that were carried out to detect the virus. Checks on blood at most Greek hospitals pick up HIV if it was contracted 22 or more days before the donation. But Avramopoulos wants all hospitals in Greece to conduct nucleic acid testing (NAT) which can detect HIV if it has been contracted 11 days or more from when the donor gives blood. «Greek citizens must feel safe, particularly ones who need fresh, clean blood,» he said. NAT is conducted at eight major hospitals, including the Geniko Kratiko in Athens and the university hospitals of Alexandroupolis, Patras, Ioannina and Larissa. But Avramo- poulos wants the other six hospitals, including the Ippocrateio in Thessaloniki, which have blood donation centers to employ the same system within the next two months. Until then, the minister said, all blood will be screened at the hospitals that use NAT. The chance of a patient becoming infected with HIV during a transfusion are 1 in 1.75 million. Only 85 such cases have been reported in Greece so far. The majority of these were before 1985. Nevertheless, Avramopoulos insisted this should not be allowed to happen in a country as organized as Greece.