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More Transfusion-Related AIDS Deaths Expected Despite Safeguards With AM-Obit-McKinney

May 8, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ The AIDS death Thursday of a congressman, linked to blood transfusions in 1979, illustrates that transfusion-related AIDS will still appear regardless of the current safety of the blood supply.

That is because the AIDS virus can take years to cause disease after it infects a person.

So AIDS cases from past transfusions will appear now, even after blood banks have instituted such safety measures as screening blood for proteins called antibodies that show a donor has been exposed to the virus.

″We hope people will understand that most of these cases, as in this case, occurred before the availibility of an antibody test,″ Terry Gautier, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said Thursday.

″Today, no one who really needs a blood transfusion should refuse it for fear of getting AIDS,″ she said. ″Refusing blood when it is needed could cost you your life.″

Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, 56, was infected from blood transfusions during multiple heart-bypass surgery in 1979, according a statement from his office.

Blood banks began screening blood for antibodies in March 1985. Since before then, people considered at high risk for AIDS, such as promiscuous homosexuals and intravenous drug abusers, have been asked not to donate blood.

″I think the educational messages to the community are being received,″ Gautier said. ″People with risk behaviors are refraining from donating.″

She said that when antibody testing began in 1985, four out of every 10,000 donors were testing positive. But as of last September, only one out of 10,000 donors was testing postive, she said. Postive-testing blood is discarded.

Gautier also said people at risk for AIDS who feel compelled to donate because of peer pressure are given chances to secretly tell the Red Cross not to transfuse the blood.

Transfusions are linked to less than 2 percent of the nation’s AIDS cases, she said. All those cases involve getting the virus while receiving a transfusion; there is no AIDS risk in donating blood.

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