BANGKOK – A 24 year-old man has recently revealed he contracted the HIV virus via a blood transfusion given as part of his leukemia treatment at a well-known private hospital in Bangkok 15 years ago.
But Bumrungrad International Hospital, where the man has received treatments for years, said the infected blood came from Thai Red Cross Society and it was likely the anonymous donor was in a “window period” – before it was possible to detect HIV in the blood.
The case has nevertheless triggered alarm and public questions over the safety of blood provided by hospitals and the Red Cross.
This 24-year-old man decided to make his predicament public only because he’d been barred from medical services at by the hospital. His parents chose not to sue when his infection was detected because Bumrungrad administrators promised to take the best possible care of him.
After a decade of free treatments at the hospital, the family decided to switch to herbal medication, but the results were unsatisfactory so they returned to the hospital, only to be told the patient should seek treatment under the Bt30 universal healthcare scheme.
“My son has had leukemia since he was nine and so far we’ve spent nearly Bt7 million on his treatments,” the mother told reporters.
Her son initially received chemotherapy at Bumrungrad but his white-blood-cell count was low and 14 blood transfusions followed.
“His condition improved with the transfusions, but after the 12th bag of blood, he suddenly started deteriorating,” the mother recounted, and soon after the hospital found he had HIV.
Bumrungrad Hospital’s corporate communication division acknowledged last week that the patient had been treated at the hospital since 2004 and said it believed the infection came from blood from a donor who was in the HIV window period.
Expressing regret for the patient’s plight, the public relations team said he’d been undergone 266 treatment sessions in the time he’d been cared for at the hospital. It said the hospital was committed to providing him aid in accordance with humanitarian principles.
Dr Ubonwan Charoonrungrit, director of the Thai Red Cross Society’s National Blood Centre, said the risk of getting HIV via a blood transfusion was low, but it did exist.
“We are continuously improving the screening process for donated blood,” she said.
Other medical professionals concur that blood screening is trustworthy, even if there remains a “one in a million” chance of infection. The key to avoiding such mishaps lies in donors being honest about their health conditions.
Medical technologist Pakphum Dechhassadin, who runs the popular Facebook page “Mor Lab Panda”, shed light on the subject in a post on Friday.
Screening devices can only detect the HIV virus about 11 days after exposure, he said, so blood will be accepted from donors in the interim “window period”.
Noting that some people donate blood just to be tested for HIV for free, Pakphum warned they could be putting an innocent fellow human in grave danger.
Instead, he said, get an HIV test at the Thai Red Cross Anonymous Clinic.