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Health risk New blood tests to screen for hepatitis E

A picture of blood donation samples
(© KEYSTONE / CHRISTIAN BEUTLER)

A new test to screen blood donations for the hepatitis E virus is to be introduced by the Swiss Blood Transfusion Service. The service is also preparing further tests to detect additional viruses since the effects of climate change are increasingly enabling tropical diseases to spread to Switzerland.

The hepatitis E screening will be introduced nationwide later this year, said Rudolf Schwabe, the director of the Swiss Blood Transfusion Serviceexternal link, in an interview with Swiss public television SRF.

Donor blood in Switzerland is currently being screened for four viruses including HIV, hepatitis A, B and C.

But recent scientific evidence has shown that hepatitis E can also be transmitted by blood, and not only through the consumption of raw meat, as previously assumed.

The disease can bring about life-threatening symptoms in people with a compromised immune system, according to Schwabe.

+ How hepatitis C is also on the rise in Switzerland

It’s also likely that more tests will be necessary in the future, because pathogens carrying tropical diseases will increasingly spread to Europe, including Switzerland, Schwabe added.

The main reasons for this new threat are people’s increasing mobility and the effects of climate change, he said.

Because of this, Switzerland is currently also preparing to screen donor blood for the West Nile and Chikungunya viruses, both transmitted by mosquitos.

“There were already instances of these viruses occurring in Italy, France, and Austria during the summer months, and the mosquitos could migrate to Switzerland at any time”, Schwabe explained.

The additional screening will make blood transfusion tests more expensive. Hospitals, as the main recipients of donations, will be mainly affected, reported SRF.

SDA-ATS/ln

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