New study finds more evidence mad cow disease can be transmitted through blood

August 3, 2002  Associated Press Worldstream
The British government said Saturday it was considering banning recipients of transfusions from donating blood, after a newspaper reported that new research provides further evidence mad cow disease can be passed on through blood.

The Guardian newspaper said tests on sheep by the Institute of Animal Health found that one in six animals given blood from sheep infected with a disease similar to mad cow showed signs to developing the illness. The newspaper said the results suggested there was an "appreciable" risk the human form could be passed on in the same way. The newspaper said the research would be published in November in the Journal of General Virology. No one from the institute was available for comment Saturday.

Mad cow disease is a brain-destroying illness that first surfaced in British cattle but later spread to cattle in much of Europe. A human form, variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, apparently spread by eating infected beef, has killed more than 100 people in Britain and parts of Europe.

Scientists have long suspected that vCJD can be transmitted through the blood of victims not showing any symptoms, though no such cases have been confirmed.

People who spent more than three months in Britain between 1980 and 1996 or have had a blood transfusion here are barred from donating blood in the United States.

Research published in The Lancet medical journal two years ago found that sheep in the early, symptom-free stages of the brain-wasting disease could pass the illness to other sheep through blood transfusions.

Researchers said then that the risk to humans was "theoretical."

Nonetheless, blood banks in Britain have taken precautions to reduce the risk of contaminated blood, including filtering out all white blood cells which could potentially carry the infection and importing plasma from countries where there is no evidence of vCJD.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said Saturday that the new findings appeared to justify the precautions.

He said the government was considering new steps to further cut the risk.

"These possibly include the importation of fresh frozen plasma, the possible exclusion of people who have received blood transfusions from giving blood and work on reducing the plasma component of blood platelets," he said, on customary condition of anonymity.

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