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Girl's HIV infection during 'window period' sparks alarm

2015-01-14 09:15 gov.cn Web Editor: Qian Ruisha
 Zeng Guixiang holds her daughter Maomao who was infected with HIV through a blood transfusion.

Zeng Guixiang holds her daughter Maomao who was infected with HIV through a blood transfusion.

A 5-year-old girl told her mother, "Mom, I don't want to live anymore." The girl, Maomao (pseudonym), was fed up with the painful treatments he has received after contracting HIV through a blood transfusion during an operation four years ago.

Zeng Guixiang, Maomao's mother, was wracked with worry after her little girl had a high fever lasting 17 days in August 2014 and took her to the Fujian Medical University Union Hospital for treatment on September 4, reported the news portal people.cn.

Maomao was diagnosed as being HIV positive after a physical examination on September 11.

It turned out that Maomao had contracted HIV due to a transfusion of tainted blood in May 2010, when the 8-month-old baby underwent surgery to treat congenital heart disease.

The Fujian provincial health and family planning committee on Saturday confirmed that Maomao contracted HIV due to the blood transfusion and requested that the hospital and local blood center give "humanitarian compensation" to the child.

This has led to public questions about why Maomao was given blood infected with HIV and who should be blamed for this incident.

The 'window period'

The Fujian health authorities explained that Maomao was infected because one of the eight people that donated the blood given to her was HIV positive. But they added that it was impossible to tell at the time that the donor was an HIV carrier, reported China Central Television.

The blood donor in this case, surnamed Chen, had no idea about their condition when donating blood, and the blood was accepted due to the "window period" when the mandatory blood donor's tests are unable to detect the virus, said Yang Minhong, an official with the committee, adding that this incident has a one in 500,000 chance of occurring.

An investigation confirmed that Chen made a one-off donation on March 31, 2010 and that the results of the blood test showed the blood was qualified for transfusion.

The HIV "window period" is a period of two to three weeks after the initial infection when blood tests cannot detect the presence of the virus.

The investigation into Maomao's case showed that neither the hospital nor the blood center had broken any law or regulation regarding blood collection and transfusion, said Yang, adding that Chen's blood was also given to two other patients.

Mao Qun'an, spokesperson for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, told a news briefing Monday that the Fujian government is investigating the case.

"Chinese scientists have invented a Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) technique that could shorten the window period from the current 20 days to 10 days, and we will promote the test to cover all nationwide blood collecting centers this year," Mao said.

The NAT technique, which is used to detect viruses or bacteria, can shorten the "window period."

No-fault accident

Maomao's case was a "no-fault accident," according to Mao. He called on social foundations and insurance companies to give Maomao's family humanitarian compensation.

Maomao's medical fees have spiraled to 300,000 yuan ($48,320) and her family is now deep in debt, reported the Xinhua News Agency.

However, Maomao's parents have questioned this result.

Wu Wuping, Maomao's lawyer, said that she has asked the hospital to hand over all documents related to the whole blood transfusion process - from the collection of the blood to the actual transfusion - and the qualifications of the medical staff involved so as to prove their acts did not violate regulations.

Maomao is not the first person in China to have contracted HIV via blood transfusion.

A man surnamed Ma was infected with HIV by his wife, who had no idea that she had contracted the virus after a transfusion of tainted blood during an operation in 1997. About 100 people at the same hospital were infected in the same way.

After a two-year-long campaign for justice, the local government finally agreed to pay the couple 140,000 yuan in compensation, but that amount of money was far from enough to support their living costs. Ma's family has struggled financially since then.

Compared with Ma, who obtained compensation, and Maomao, who is likely to obtain compensation, one little boy was less lucky.

The 10-year-old Xiao Ming was infected with HIV after being given blood infected with HIV during an operation in 2002. His mother filed a lawsuit, but that failed as the court said that the blood tests performed by the hospital and blood center did not violate any regulations or laws.

The court explained that Xiao Ming was infected with HIV because the donor of the blood given to him was also in the "window period" and therefore the virus was undetectable.

"Over the last 10 years, we have had to go to many hospitals and have lived an abnormal life," said Xiao Ming's mother.

A global puzzle

Experts said that the "window period" is a worldwide problem and the risks it brings to blood transfusions could be reduced, but cannot yet be eliminated, reported the Information Times on Sunday.

Patients who are given blood that contains the virus will definitely be infected, and similar incidents have occurred in developed countries, said Li Taisheng, a professor at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital.

Li added that the blood center in Fujian screened the donor's blood in accordance with the national regulations issued in 2010.

HIV suffers in China are still subject to discrimination and sometimes ostracized.

An 8-year-old boy was allegedly facing expulsion from Shufangya village in Southwest China's Sichuan Province for being HIV-positive, news portal people.cn reported in December last year.

More than 200 villagers, including the boy's grandfather, signed an agreement on December 7 agreeing to expel the boy in an effort to "protect villagers' health."

His grandfather said that the virus was transmitted to the boy by his mother, who abandoned her son after giving birth to him.

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