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West Nile fear shouldn't discourage blood donation 

New testing procedures in place, though no SLO County cases reported yet

Locking yourself in your house may help for a while. Screening and shuttering the windows is a good idea, to a degree. Holing up in a dry, desolate place may also save your life.

But you'd be going overboard just to avoid a tiny mosquito. And just because you've been bit doesn't mean you're now a menace to society - or to society's blood supply, for that matter.

Sure, West Nile virus is here to stay. But don't let it ruin your summer life. Wear DEET and get on with your life.

"It's something we're going to have to learn to deal with," said Elliot Schulman, Santa Barbara County public health director. "We're not going to be able to eliminate it in the environment."

Schulman explained that residents can do much to avoid the virus, not unlike taking precautions against other outdoor ailments when camping or hiking.

"If you're routinely hiking in the foothills where there's Lyme disease, and you're inattentive to using repellant and get bit, then you have a certain risk based on what your activities are," Schulman said. "The same holds true for West Nile virus."

Even as Californians are getting bit this summer, potential donors shouldn't be discouraged from giving of their blood, said Scott Edward, community relations director for the Tri-Counties Blood Bank.

"They might start hearing the news reports... and mistakenly think that because they've been out in the woods they can't donate," Edward said. "There were some reports of that last year."

He said that unless the prospective donors are certain their blood isn't safe, it's still a good idea to come to the blood bank.

"We have enough questions that we use to defer people," Edward said.

In addition to quizzing donors on their blood health, blood centers have been using a relatively new test - developed specifically in response to West Nile - on every donated unit.

"Almost every blood bank in the country is performing West Nile testing on blood donors," said Vicki Finson, executive director for the Tri-Counties Blood Bank.

She explained that the current test - which donors read about as they sign in for their appointments - isn't yet licensed by the Food and Drug Administration, so it's considered an investigational use.

Finson said that this is the third year for such testing.

"We feel it's proper and right to let the donors know that we're doing the test under the investigational use only," she said. "The test is there to help the blood supply."

If donors don't want to be a part of the testing, they're out of luck because the blood bank won't take their blood at this time.

"[ West Nile] is one of the many things that we have to deal with," Edward said.

Andrea Rooks is news editor for New Times' sister paper, the Santa Maria Sun. Sun Intern Joe Payne contributed. Andrea can be reached at arooks@santamariasun.com.

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