2019-02-07 06:38:05

Chinese health authorities have said that there is a “very low risk” to the public of HIV infection as officials investigate a Shanghai pharmaceutical company that reportedly sold more than 12,000 blood products potentially contaminated with traces of the virus into the country’s health care system.

News of the latest shock to China’s scandal-tainted public health sector came after the disease control and prevention authority of Jiangxi, a province in eastern China, allegedly detected HIV antibodies while testing a batch of intravenous immunoglobulin produced by the Shanghai-based offshoot of China Meheco Xinxing Pharma Co., Ltd., also known as Shanghai Xinxing. The batch was cleared for public use by the Shanghai Food and Drug Inspection Institute in October, but it is not known how many products have been used on patients.

China’s National Health Commission stated on Wednesday it had demanded that Shanghai Xinxing suspend sales of the relevant blood products nationwide, adding that a team of experts had been dispatched to conduct an onsite investigation in Shanghai. Preliminary testing showed that no patients in Jiangxi who had used the affected products had contracted HIV and no initial signs that the virus was present in the serums, according to the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA). Sixth Tone’s calls to Shanghai Xinxing went unanswered on Thursday.

Intravenous immunoglobulin is a blood product prepared from human plasma and contains antibodies that can help relieve a number of health conditions. Shanghai Xinxing’s products are frequently injected into people with acute inflammation, Kawasaki disease, and post-chemotherapy infections, according to the company’s website.

Antibodies are produced when pathogens — like bacteria and viruses — are present in the bloodstream. Because antibodies often take specific forms, doctors can use them to identify which pathogens are affecting a patient. Although the presence of HIV antibodies in Shanghai Xinxing’s products does not definitively mean that the virus itself is present, the possibility cannot be completely ruled out.

“The detection of HIV antibodies … could mean that [the products] have been contaminated by the blood of HIV-infected people,” said Wang Yuedan, deputy director of Peking University Health Science Center’s department of immunology, in an interview with the Beijing News. “In theory, the risk of HIV transmission exists … but the chances remain slim.”

Shanghai Xinxing is the country’s leading manufacturer of blood products. Established in 2000, it has a strong presence in eastern and central China and posted revenues of nearly 98 million yuan ($14.5 million) in the first half of 2018. In the mid-2000s, Shanghai Xinxing spent 50 million yuan on the acquisition of two apheresis centers — where patients have plasma separated from the rest of their blood — in Jiangxi and central Hunan province, respectively. The Jiangxi health commission’s spokesperson said the exact source of the contaminated serums remains under investigation.

In January, the NMPA revised the health warnings printed on doses of human immunoglobulin to clarify that although samples are screened for pathogens prior to being approved, the serums nonetheless derive from human blood and therefore patients who use such treatments remain at a minor risk of infection.

Editor: Matthew Walsh.

(Header image: GIPhotoStock/VCG)