CJD alert brings safety check on blood supplies

CJD alert brings safety check on blood supplies

August 23, 2001 The Guardian by James Meikle

A comprehensive review of the safety of British blood is being conducted because of the theoretical risk of transmitting the human form of BSE, variant CJD.

Civil servants and government advisers are attempting to balance the unquantified threat that transfusions might increase the steady growth of the disease against the chaos restrictions would cause the blood supply to hospitals.

They are concerned not to create panic that would threaten more lives than any new controls after moves by authorities in the United States to widen bans on blood donors who have lived in Britain.

The president of the American Red Cross, Bernadine Healey, yesterday told BBC Radio she would do "everything I could" to avoid having a transfusion in Britain, because "we do not know if there is a silent reservoir of people who are carrying this disease who may be blood donors."

Blood shortages are expected in New York and other US cities from which people regularly travel and work in Europe. Dr Healey suggested she would not want a transfusion in New York either, but Ian Franklin, medical director of the Scottish national blood transfusion service said: "We would urge people who need blood transfusions to have their blood tranfusions with confidence."

The review includes the possible banning of anyone who has received blood tranfusions from giving blood, new controls on the use of fresh plasma, and the practicalities of widening the occasions in which patients' blood can be recycled during operations.

The advisory committee on the microbiological safety of blood and tissues for transplantation will report in October. The government has already introduced some safety measures including removing white cells, because they are considered most likely to carry vCJD, and importing most plasma. But a BSE-like disease has since been transmitted by blood between sheep in a laboratory experiment.

Preventing anyone who has had a blood transfusion from donating blood could lead to nearly one in six donors being banned, according to some estimates. Decisions on whether to implement such a measure were delayed pending further investigations.

Between 20,000 and 30,000 patients who have undergone severe trauma still receive British-sourced plasma to help clot their blood. But further measures, including more imports, are being considered.

Most fresh blood could not be imported because of its short shelf life. About 2m people donate blood, some more than once.

Thirteen of the 106 British victims of vCJD have been reported as having been blood donors, although the national blood service in England and Wales says it only has records of eight.

Thirteen countries, including the US, ban people who lived in Britain for at least six months between 1980 and 1996 from giving blood.

But the American Red Cross, which supplies about half US blood supplies, is to introduce far tougher restrictions, banning anyone who has been to Europe for six months since 1980, anyone who spent three months in Britain since 1980 and anyone who had a blood transfusion in Britain in the same period.

This could leave it having to find other sources for a quarter of blood supplies in New York.

The US food and drug administration is expected to introduce slightly less stringent controls on other blood suppliers.

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