Collection and testing procedures of blood and plasma that are designed to exclude donations contaminated by viruses provide a solid foundation for the safety of all blood products. Plasma units may be collected from a selected donor population, contributing to the exclusion of individuals at risk of carrying infectious agents. Each blood/plasma unit is individually screened to exclude donations positive for a direct (e.g. viral antigen) or an indirect (e.g. anti-viral antibodies) viral marker. As infectious donations, if collected from donors in the testing window period, can still be introduced into manufacturing plasma pools, the production of pooled plasma products requires a specific approach that integrates additional viral reduction procedures. Prior to the large-pool processing, samples of each donation for fractionation are pooled ('mini-pool') and subjected to a nucleic acid amplification test (NAT) by, for example, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect viral genomes (in Europe: HCV RNA plasma pool testing is now mandatory). Any individual donation found PCR positive is discarded before the industrial pooling. The pool of eligible plasma donations (which may be 2000 litres or more) may be subjected to additional viral screening tests, and then undergoes a series of processing and purification steps that, for each product, comprise one or several reduction treatments to exclude HIV, HBV, HCV and other viruses. Viral inactivation treatments most commonly used are solvent-detergent incubation and heat treatment in liquid phase (pasteurization), Nanofiltration (viral elimination by filtration), as well as specific forms of dry-heat treatments, have gained interest as additional viral reduction steps coupled with established methods. Viral reduction steps have specific advantages and limits that should be carefully balanced with the risks of loss of protein activity and enhancement of epitope immunogenicity. Due to the combination of these overlapping strategies, viral transmission events of HIV, HBV, and HCV by plasma products have become very rare. Nevertheless, the vulnerability of the plasma supply to new infectious agents requires continuous vigilance so that rational and appropriate scientific countermeasures against emerging infectious risks can be implemented promptly. (C) 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.
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