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Blood bank soon could use infusion;
Mad cow rule may cut donors by 6%

April 6, 2002 The Houston Chronicle by Leigh Hopper
Teressa Barner, a blood donor for the past 12 years, was set to roll up her sleeve this week. That's when she learned the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center can no longer accept her blood.

Expanded federal restrictions on blood donors, aimed at preventing mad cow disease, could cost Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center up to 6 percent of its regular donors, agency officials said Friday. The new rules apply to people who have spent a total of five years or more in Europe since 1980, and those who spent a total of three months in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996.

Corporate donors "are the backbone of the program," said Blood Center President and CEO Bill Teague. "We were astounded to find so many of our major donor groups have so many holdings and activities in Great Britain and Western Europe. It's nothing for them to send a team over there for three or four months."

Barner, an employee at Duke Energy who lived in Germany because her father was in the U.S. Army, was surprised by the change.

"It's a big concern, especially since right now all you hear about is the extreme shortage they have nationwide," she said.

The human version of mad cow disease, known as variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, is thought to result from eating beef infected with mad cow disease. Human-to-human spread through blood products is thought to be possible, though none has been documented. There is no way to test blood for the disease.

Dr. Susan Rossmann, medical director of the blood center, said the excluded donors are at virtually zero risk of having mad cow disease. In Europe, there have been 117 cases in humans "and those people are at much, much greater risk than casual travelers, business travelers, the military people - any of these people."

Rossmann said she does not think the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the blood supply, is being overly cautious because they always try to prevent any possible risk to the blood supply.

"We don't want another situation as we did with HIV in the early years, where clearly it was transmitted by blood, and we didn't know it, so we didn't protect people," Rossmann said. "It may be overkill, but who knows?"

The guidelines exclude the following donors:

Those who have spent time in the United Kingdom that adds up to three months or longer between 1980 and 1996, and those who received a transfusion in the U.K. any time since 1980.

Those who have spent time in Europe, including the U.K., that adds up to five years or more since 1980. Also ineligible are those who spent six months or longer on a military base in Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany from 1980 through 1990.

Those who spent a total of six months or longer associated with a military base in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Turkey or Greece from 1980 through 1996 (including time spent in the U.K.).

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