ATLANTA — Health researchers today reported the first case of a patient's becoming infected with the AIDS virus from a blood transfusion that had been tested and showed no signs of the deadly disease.
The case, which occurred last year in Colorado, involved a rare set of circumstances--a donor who gave blood so soon after a homosexual encounter that he had not yet developed the antibodies that trigger the AIDS blood tests, officials with the federal Centers for Disease Control said.
The chance of a blood recipient getting the virus which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome remains less than 1 in 100,000, said Dr. Harold Jaffe, an AIDS specialist with the CDC.
"I don't think concern about AIDS should enter into the decision about surgery or any other reason to receive blood," Jaffe said.
Take Months to Show Up
But the CDC noted that AIDS antibodies take months to show up in blood tests. For that reason, "men who have had sexual contact with another man since 1977 (the advent of AIDS) must not donate blood."
In the Colorado case, a 31-year-old blood donor who tested negative for AIDS virus in April, 1985, donated again in August, about three months after he began having sex with a 22-year-old homosexual. It was his first homosexual contact in 11 years.
The August donation, like the April blood, tested negative. But a 60-year-old surgery patient, apparently heterosexual and faithfully married for 30 years, acquired the AIDS virus from a transfusion of the August blood, the CDC said.
The CDC, in its weekly report, noted that AIDS antibodies--signs that AIDS virus is present, and the body is trying to fight it--"may not be detectable in blood from donors with very recent infections."
Officials with the CDC and the American Red Cross said today's report does not indicate a problem with the AIDS blood test, which for reasons of accuracy is designed to detect antibodies, not the AIDS virus itself.
'Can't Do the Impossible'
"This is not a test failure," said Dr. Joseph O'Malley of the Medical Operations office in the Red Cross' national headquarters. "We know the test can't do the impossible"--that is, detect antibodies not yet present.
The donor in the Colorado case apparently was under the erroneous impression that since he had had sex with just one partner, he was not an AIDS risk.
One other patient received the same August, 1985, blood as the 60-year-old married man, and also acquired an AIDS virus infection. That was a 57-year-old homosexual man who reported sex with multiple partners. Health officials cannot say whether his infection stemmed from the transfusion or his sexual activity, Jaffe said.
Neither of the recipients has developed AIDS itself. Studies of gay men indicate that between 10% and 30% of people infected with the virus actually get the disease within five years, Jaffe said.