The watchword for blood donation: safety

Swiss Transfusion SRC strives to ensure a high standard of safety for donors and patients. One way it does so is by regularly monitoring the effects of viral and other pathogens that might be transmissible by blood.

Highly sensitive tests for donated blood

Two HIV-positive samples were detected in 2022 in the testing performed on every unit of blood donated (2021: 2). Between zero and four infected units have been found in each of the last ten years. Four donations infected with hepatitis C were detected in time last year, four fewer than in 2021. Testing for hepatitis B (HBV) resulted in the detection and destruction of a total of 28 infected donations in 2022 (2021: 20).

Hepatitis E (HEV) has been subject to mandatory reporting since 2018. A total of 45 cases of HEV were detected in the context of blood donation in 2022. In 2021, there were even more cases (2021: 64) due to an HEV outbreak in Switzerland.

Tropical pathogens

Swiss Transfusion SRC monitors the incidence and distribution of blood-borne diseases. When necessary, the organisation defines risk areas and takes steps to keep the blood donors and patients safe. For instance, individuals returning from travel to a risk area are required to wait for a certain period before they can donate blood. The waiting period is normally one month. There were numerous cases of West Nile virus reported in Europe once again in 2022. In 2022, as in the previous years, most of the cases of this mosquito-borne disease that appeared in Europe did so in Eastern Europe or Northern Italy in the summer. Previously unaffected regions in Germany and Austria reported their first cases. There were no autochthonous (locally acquired) infections of residents of Switzerland reported in 2022, although mosquitoes carrying the West Nile disease were detected for the first time in Ticino. The situation was closely monitored. Swiss Transfusion SRC is in regular contact with the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO). Swiss Transfusion SRC has been working with staff from both of these government agencies to prepare for the appearance of the West Nile virus in animals and humans for several years now and has developed an action plan for this event. The plan does not recognise a need for action upon the detection of infected mosquitoes if no other infections are detected, as was the situation in 2022. The Swiss blood transfusion centres can immediately test all blood donations using validated methods if needs be.

Numerous cases of dengue were reported in France in 2022. Six regions in Southern France were defined as risk areas (2021: 1 region).

As in 2021, no infections with the Zika virus were detected anywhere in Europe in 2022.

Amending the Therapeutic Products Act and the donor eligibility criteria for MSM

There is a parliamentary initiative on blood donation proposing the amendment of Switzerland’s Therapeutic Products Act concerning the following three points:

  • The principle of the non-remuneration of blood donation in Switzerland and its enshrinement in legislation.
  • “Financial support” by the Confederation in accordance with the Subsidies Act (no service contract since blood is a therapeutic product)
  • Non-discriminatory policy towards blood donors, e.g. preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation

Swiss Transfusion SRC wrote a position statement on this initiative in May and spoke about its content in a media conference.

In 2021, Swiss Transfusion SRC charged a body of experts with evaluating the donor criteria applying to men who have sex with men (MSM). The evaluation was carried out by the “Blood Safety” expert group, made up of experts from the Federal Office of Public Health as well as from Swiss Transfusion SRC and the regional blood transfusion services. Based on the results of this evaluation, which was completed in the autumn, the expert group concluded that the current eligibility criterion applying to MSM donors, which requires that at least 12 months have elapsed since their most recent sexual contact (otherwise the donor must be deferred), could be changed. The expert group assessed the potential residual risk should the currently valid eligibility criteria that applies specifically to MSM donors be relaxed. Swiss Transfusion SRC presented Swissmedic with two scenarios for review with respect to admissibility and requested the equal treatment of all donors, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.

Hepatitis C positive blood units detected in time
First-time donorsRegular donors

Hepatitis B positive blood units detected in time
First-time donorsRegular donors

HIV-positive blood units detected in time
First-time donorsRegular donors

HEV-positive blood units detected in time
First-time donorsRegular donors