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Red Cross bans blood donations from europe in an effort to prevent mad cow disease in the US

April 13, 2001 CBS Evening News

On the CBS HealthWatch, raising America's fire wall against mad cow disease. The American Red Cross says it plans this summer to expand a ban on blood donations from Britain to include all of Western Europe. But as CBS' Wyatt Andrews reports, the ban is drawing fire from two directions.

Unidentified Man: Put your arm straight up in the air.

WYATT ANDREWS reporting:

The Red Cross, which supplies half of all blood donations in America, says it has no choice. Because mad cow disease has spread beyond Great Britain, and because there is no blood test for the human variation, the Red Cross will decline blood donations from anyone who has lived six months or more anywhere in Europe.

Dr. BERNADINE HEALY (CBS News Medical Consultant): We believe that this poses a risk that we do not believe we should take.

ANDREWS: Dr. Bernadine Healy is the president of the American Red Cross and a medical consultant to CBS News.

Dr. HEALY: We don't want to frighten anyone. We are not saying that this is a high risk or a low risk. All we're saying is that there is a risk out there.

ANDREWS: But the Red Cross decision is frightening to New York City. It turns out New York imports one-fourth of its donated blood directly from Europe. This isn't blood from Americans who've lived there; it's blood air-lifted in from European donors. It takes 3,000 units a week to make up the city's shortfall. Take this away, says Dr. Robert Jones, and you get chaos.

Dr. ROBERT JONES (New York Blood Center): We would have a medical-care crisis.

ANDREWS: Jones is the head of the New York Blood Center. He says losing 25 percent of blood donations would close emergency rooms, delay surgeries and put patients in real danger, when the risk of getting mad cow from human blood hasn't been proven.

Dr. JONES: You have to ask yourself, when you're weighing these risks and dangers, which is the greater risk and danger?

ANDREWS: This disagreement between the Red Cross and New York will soon be settled by the Food and Drug Administration, which will set a national policy on the exclusion of blood donors. Whenever that ruling comes, it will only highlight what isn't known about mad cow. Blood safety is critical to the US defense line against mad cow disease, and now the experts sharply disagree on where to draw that line. Wyatt Andrews, CBS News, Washington.


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