Sarasota blood bank can zap Zika from donated blood

You can find Ward Mumaw in the same spot every 11 weeks at the Suncoast Communities Blood Bank in Sarasota County.  For 20 years, he has done his part to give back by donating blood.

"I have always donated over the years. I think it is a chance to share what I have for someone else who may need it," he said.

When the first travel-related Zika cases first appeared in Miami he wasn't too worried.  But when mosquitos started spreading it, he became a little more cautious.

"I do take extra precaution when being around mosquitos. I have a mosquito spray in the car that I use if I'm in an area that may be filled with mosquitos," he said.

Blood banks across Florida have been stepping up the testing of their blood supplies.  At Suncoast Blood Bank, they have an extra tool that could prove worthwhile.

"Here we have a system in place that's able to help us really make the blood supply safer," said Robert Harper.

It is called the Intercept Blood System.  Harper say, while the machine appears simple on the outside, inside it can perform miracles.

The machine uses a molecule to flush pathogens like Zika out of blood platelets.  That is the product that will one day go to cancer or burn patients.

"We are able to inactivate a wide range of pathogens, including viruses, bacteria and parasites," he said.

The Suncoast Blood Bank was the first in the nation to get their hands on the machine last year. That put them ahead of the game when Zika started to appear.

"When Zika virus came, this was a proven technology against Zika.  It had already been tested for that virus," continued Harper.

It is a win-win when dealing with a virus that could have crippling effects on the state's blood supply.

"Platelets are vital to our community as they only have a five-day shelf life. They're used just about as soon as they hit the shelf for all of our cancer patients," Harper added.