Red Cross Tightens Restrictions on Blood Donors

Red Cross Tightens Restrictions on Blood Donors

May 21, 2001 CNN by Kyra Phillips
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: If you've been considering making a blood donation to the American Red Cross, you might want to listen up. Under new, tighter restrictions, the Red Cross may not want your blood donation if you spent time in Europe over the past 20 years.

Right now, anyone who spent six months or more in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996 is blocked from giving blood, and starting in September, that restriction will be tightened to three months or more. Travelers who spent time in other parts of Europe are not currently restricted from giving blood, but in September, anyone who spent six months or more there will be barred.

For more on these restrictions and the reasons for them, we've joined in Cleveland by Dr. Bernadine Healy, president of the American Red Cross.

Dr. Healy, hello.


PHILLIPS: How many people are we talking about here that will be excluded?

HEALY: Well, it could be as many as several thousand, maybe 400,000 people, but I want to stress that although some donors are going to be excluded, we are in an active campaign to make that up with other donors. Only about 5 percent of people in this country who can give blood do give blood.

PHILLIPS: And I do want to talk about that active campaign in a moment, but for those who will not be able to give blood, how will you know, because usually have to go in and fill out the questionnaire? Sometimes it's hard to remember what you've done over the past 20 years.

HEALY: Well, I think most people generally know where they have traveled and when they have traveled. So, I think that we'll try to help them, we'll prompt them, we'll ask them the questions. But I think so far, we have done a lot of geographic exclusions in malaria areas, Great Britain over the past year and a half, so we're confident that we can handle that.

PHILLIPS: Dr. Healy, we did get a statement from Dr. Paul Brown, the past chairman from the FDA, and this is his quote: "I think it's excessive. I'm told the degree of donor exclusion would cripple some smaller regional blood suppliers."

Now, when you don't know if mad cow disease is transmitted through the blood, then why be so restrictive right now? Do you think it's a little overreactive?

HEALY: We don't think so. I think it's a prudent thing to do and I think it's a precautionary thing to do, but I completely agree with Paul Brown that we don't have certainty in terms of science, but that's the very reason that we have to do something now and as we go and get the science.

But there are enough facts however, Kyra and we can't ignore them. Number one, we do know that this disease, the human form of mad cow disease, is in the body long before the person knows that they are infected, and guess where it hides? It hides in the lymph tissue, it hides in the appendix, in the gut, in the spleen and in white cells and in the blood at low levels.

Whether it's enough to be infective, we don't know, but we know that in animals, it can be transmitted in experimental studies, and we also that we don't have a blood test for it. So, we believe that there is enough evidence that makes us pause, and we believe until that scientific certainty is there, we must take action now, and Kyra, we don't have a blood test. So when someone comes who is perfectly well, we don't have a way of knowing whether or not they are harboring this disease.

PHILLIPS: Dr. Bernadine Healy, president of the American Red Cross, thanks so much. Be checking those passports before you give blood. Thank you.

HEALY: Thank you.

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