Transfusion-transmitted cytomegalovirus: behaviour of cell-free virus during blood component processing. A study on the safety of labile blood components in Switzerland

Blood Transfus. 2020 Nov;18(6):446-453. doi: 10.2450/2020.0241-19. Epub 2020 Feb 28.


Background: Nowadays, most blood products are leukocyte-reduced. After this procedure, the residual risk for transfusion transmitted cytomegalovirus (TT-CMV) is mostly attributed to cell-free viruses in the plasma of blood donors following primary infection or viral reactivation. Here, objectives are: 1) to study the behaviour of cell-free CMV through the blood component processing; 2) to determine the anti-CMV seroprevalence, the level of viremia, the window-period in blood donor population; and 3) to identify cases of TT-CMV in bone marrow transplant (BMT) recipients.

Materials and methods: Cell-free CMV was injected into blood bags originating from regular donors. Blood components were processed according to either the CompoSelect® or the CompoFlow® (Fresenius Kabi AG) techniques. Samples were analysed at each step for presence of virus DNA using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The anti-CMV seroprevalence in our donor population was taken from our donor data system. The viremia was assessed in pooled plasmas samples from routine donations by quantitative PCR. Medical charts of 165 BMT anti-CMV seronegative recipients/anti-CMV seronegative donors who received CMV-unscreened blood products were reviewed.

Results: Cell-free CMV passes without any decrease in viral load through all stages of blood processing. The anti-CMV seroprevalence was 46.13%. Four DNA positive samples out of 42,240 individual blood donations were identified (0.009%); all had low levels of viremia (range 11-255 IU/mL). No window-period donation was identified. No TT-CMV was found.

Discussion: Cell-free CMV remains a concern with current blood component processing as it passes through all the processes. However, since low levels of CMV DNA were identified in the donations tested, and no BMT recipients had TT-CMV, the residual threat of TT-CMV after leukocyte reduction appears to be very low.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Blood / virology*
  • Blood Component Transfusion / adverse effects*
  • Blood Donors*
  • Blood Preservation
  • Blood Safety*
  • Blood Specimen Collection / instrumentation
  • Blood Specimen Collection / methods
  • Blood-Borne Infections / epidemiology*
  • Blood-Borne Infections / prevention & control
  • Blood-Borne Infections / virology
  • Bone Marrow / virology
  • Bone Marrow Transplantation / adverse effects
  • Cytomegalovirus / immunology
  • Cytomegalovirus / isolation & purification*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / blood
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / transmission*
  • DNA, Viral / blood
  • Humans
  • Plasma / virology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Switzerland / epidemiology
  • Transfusion Reaction / epidemiology*
  • Transfusion Reaction / prevention & control
  • Transfusion Reaction / virology
  • Viral Load
  • Viremia / transmission*


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • DNA, Viral