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Controversial New Virus Tied to Fatigue Not Transmitted by Blood

A newly discovered virus that triggered a firestorm of controversy when it was linked to prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome isn’t transmitted through blood, according to researchers.

Tests designed to detect antibodies the immune system would normally produce to latch on to the virus, known as XMRV, failed to find solid evidence of transmission, researchers said. They analyzed 17,249 samples from blood donors.

Officials from Abbott Laboratories, the American Red Cross and Gen-Probe Inc. gathered soon after XMRV was identified in prostate tumors in 2006 to see if they could find it in the nation’s blood supply. A later study linked the virus to chronic fatigue syndrome and found it in blood, though further research failed to confirm the results. In the latest study, less than 1 percent of the samples were positive for either antibody test, and none were positive for both, said John Hackett, manager of emerging pathogens and virus discovery at Abbott.

“We found none that showed convincing evidence of antibody reactivity to XMRV,” Hackett said in a telephone interview. “Further actions with respect to XMRV and blood safety are not warranted.”

One of the original studies linking XMRV to chronic fatigue led the American Red Cross, the largest U.S. supplier of blood products, in December 2010 to ban blood donations from sufferers of the disease. Another study testing blood taken from 150 people with chronic fatigue and 150 without the condition is under way. Those results are expected by the end of the year.

Worthwhile Endeavor

While the work didn’t yield a new product for the Abbott Park, Illinois-based company, it was worthwhile, Hackett said. Abbott already works with academic researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and elsewhere to identify and study novel infectious disease agents, he said.

XMRV is a real virus, there’s no question,” he said. “The issue is whether it naturally infects humans and causes a health problem. The reality is that once something is identified, it takes time to work through the details and come up with a product that can detect the virus. If it had turned out there was a need and we weren’t in the field, it would have taken years longer.”

The study was presented today at the meeting of the American Association of Blood Banks in San Diego.

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