The principal of a medical college in Kanpur on Wednesday denied reports that a group of children undergoing blood transfusions tested positive for infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, The New Indian Express reported.

Sanjay Kala, the principal of the Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Medical College, was responding to a report in the Hindustan Times on Monday. The report had said that 14 children had tested positive for the infections at the Lala Lajpat Rai Hospital, which is affiliated to the medical college that Kala heads.

The children were said to have undergone transfusions at private and district hospitals for the thalassemia blood disorder from which they were suffering. They hail from various parts of Uttar Pradesh.

The principal said on Wednesday that thalassemia patients undergo periodic screenings at the Lala Lajpat Rai Hospital. He claimed that no case of HIV or hepatitis has been reported at the facility after 2019.

“During the screening, not even a single patient with HIV or hepatitis infection has been found here since 2019,” Kala said. “Two HIV patients – one in 2014 and the other in 2019 – were found during the screening. They had got the transfusion done from some other hospital.”

Earlier this week, Arun Arya, the head of the paediatrics department at the Lala Lajpat Rai Hospital, had told the Hindustan Times that seven of these children had tested positive for Hepatitis B, five for Hepatitis C and two for HIV.

He had said that while the exact cause of the infections was unclear, the blood transfusion may have occurred during the “window period”.

When blood is donated, it is tested to ensure that it is safe for use such as for transfusions. However, if tests are conducted only a short time after a virus has infected the donor, they may not be able to detect the pathogen. This time span is called the window period.

On Wednesday, however, Kala recommended action against Arya and said that he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Blood transfusion guidelines

Blood banks are supposed to follow guidelines issued by the National AIDS Control Organisation, which state that each unit of blood donated from a person must undergo a screening test to detect HIV and hepatitis. Elisa is the most commonly used test for this purpose.

However, if donors have been freshly infected with either HIV or hepatitis, their bodies may not have generated enough antibodies against the virus for them to be detected in screening tests.

The Elisa test can only detect antibodies against these viruses 45 days after the patient is infected. A more sensitive method – the nucleic acid amplification test – reduces the window period to 10-15 days. However, this too cannot totally eliminate the chances of missing out on identifying an infection.

Experts say most cases of blood transfusion-related infections are caused when such tests miss detecting infections, or tests are not carried altogether.