Detection of septic transfusion reactions to platelet transfusions by active and passive surveillance

Hong Hong, Wenbin Xiao, Hillard M. Lazarus, Caryn E. Good, Robert W. Maitta and Michael R. Jacobs

Key Points

  • Bacterial sepsis from contaminated platelet transfusions continues to occur despite recent interventions; additional measures are needed.

  • STR to platelet transfusion is frequently not recognized or reported; use of recent AABB criteria showed highest diagnostic sensitivity.

Publisher's Note: There is an Inside Blood Commentary on this article in this issue.


Septic transfusion reactions (STRs) resulting from transfusion of bacterially contaminated platelets are a major hazard of platelet transfusion despite recent interventions. Active and passive surveillance for bacterially contaminated platelets was performed over 7 years (2007-2013) by culture of platelet aliquots at time of transfusion and review of reported transfusion reactions. All platelet units had been cultured 24 hours after collection and released as negative. Five sets of STR criteria were evaluated, including recent AABB criteria; sensitivity and specificity of these criteria, as well as detection by active and passive surveillance, were determined. Twenty of 51 440 platelet units transfused (0.004%; 389 per million) were bacterially contaminated by active surveillance and resulted in 5 STRs occurring 9 to 24 hours posttransfusion; none of these STRs had been reported by passive surveillance. STR occurred only in neutropenic patients transfused with high bacterial loads. A total of 284 transfusion reactions (0.55%) were reported by passive surveillance. None of these patients had received contaminated platelets. However, 6 to 93 (2.1%-32.7%) of these 284 reactions met 1 or more STR criteria, and sensitivity of STR criteria varied from 5.1% to 45.5%. These results document the continued occurrence of bacterial contamination of platelets resulting in STR in neutropenic patients, failure of passive surveillance to detect STR, and lack of specificity of STR criteria. These findings highlight the limitations of reported national STR data based on passive surveillance and the need to implement further measures to address this problem such as secondary testing or use of pathogen reduction technologies.

  • Submitted July 6, 2015.
  • Accepted November 17, 2015.
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