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Vox Sang. 2006 Feb;90(2):77-84.

Malaria and blood transfusion.

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  • 1National Blood Service, London, UK.


The transmission of malaria by blood transfusion was one of the first recorded incidents of transfusion-transmitted infection. Although a number of different infections have been reported to be transmitted by transfusion since then, on a global scale malaria remains one of the most common transfusion-transmitted infections. Transfusion-transmitted malaria can have serious consequences, as infection with Plasmodium falciparum may prove rapidly fatal. Ensuring that, in non-endemic countries, the blood supply is free from malaria is problematical, especially as travel to malarious areas is increasing and there is some spread of the disease into new areas, as well as a resurgence of malaria in areas where previously it had been eradicated. In non-endemic countries, donor deferral can be effective, but clear guidelines are needed. In endemic countries the problem is far greater as the majority of donors may be potentially infected with malaria parasites. In both situations, the simple deferral of donors may be wasteful and can eventually erode the donor base. Thus, other strategies are needed to ensure safety with sufficiency. However, the screening of donations for evidence of malaria is not without its problems. Although the examination of blood films is still the basis for diagnosing acute malaria, in most situations it is not sufficiently sensitive for blood bank screening. In non-endemic countries, donor deferral in combination with screening for specific antimalarial immunoglobulin provides an effective means of minimizing the risk of transmission. In endemic countries, more specific donor questioning, consideration of seasonal variation and geographical distribution may help to identify the population of donors who are most likely to be infected. In addition, the administration of antimalarials to transfusion recipients may help to prevent transmission. Nonetheless, no matter what strategy is adopted, it is likely that cases of transfusion-transmitted malaria may still occur, so malaria must always be considered in any patient with a febrile illness post-transfusion.

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