BACKGROUND: The Viral Activation Transfusion Study (VATS) afforded an opportunity to determine whether blood transfusions, and in particular exogenous WBCs, “activate” CMV replication in HIV-infected, CMV-seropositive patients, and whether such patients can be superinfected by additional strains of CMV transmitted via blood transfusions.
STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: A total of 531 patients were randomized to receive either WBC-reduced (WBCR) or non-WBC-reduced (NWBCR) RBC units. Plasma CMV PCR assays were performed before transfusion and weekly after transfusion for 4 weeks. NWBCR cases with evidence of possible reactivation and/or superinfection were further studied for donor viremia by DNA PCR of frozen retention segments and new genotype acquisition using gB envelope sequence analysis of pre- and posttransfusion recipient specimens.
RESULTS: VATS patients received a median of two RBC units during their initial transfusion. Whether positive or negative for CMV DNA at baseline, there were no significant treatment-arm differences in the percentage of patients who had positive qualitative CMV PCR or increases in CMV viral load at follow-up. Of 50 recipients randomized to NWBCR RBC and meeting criteria for possible CMV superinfection, 25 had sufficient CMV DNA load in a baseline and one or more viremic follow-up sample to permit comparison of gB genotypes. Only two recipients showed genotype shifts. Of 125 WBC pellets prepared from the seropositive units transfused into these 50 cases, only 1 tested weakly PCR positive for CMV DNA (insufficient copy number for genotyping).
CONCLUSION: There was no evidence of “activation” of CMV by blood transfusion. Among the NWBCR RBC recipients, there was little evidence of possible transmission of new CMV strains. Hence, the current policy for transfusion support of HIV-infected patients, which allows transfusion of CMV-antibody-positive blood to CMV-seropositive patients, is appropriate.