Mad-cow scare widens blood ban: Health Canada tightens restrictions on donations, adding western European countries to list

Mad-cow scare widens blood ban:
Health Canada tightens restrictions on donations, adding western European countries to list

August 30, 2001 The Gazette (Montreal) by Mark Kennedy
Health Canada will instruct the country's two blood agencies to bar even more people who have lived or traveled in Britain and Europe from donating blood under revised mad-cow disease safeguards to be announced today.

The blood-safety regulator's move comes in the wake of evidence in recent months that the human toll from the brain-wasting disease continues to mount in Britain and the disease also has spread to cattle in European nations.

The concern is that many people who ate contaminated beef in those countries are unknowingly carrying the human form of the fatal disease - which can take many years to incubate - and may pass it on to others through donated blood. Although there are no known cases of humans transferring the disease through blood, scientists consider it a theoretical risk - particularly in light of recent research showing sheep-to-sheep transmission of the disease by blood transfusion.

Federal regulators reviewed the matter in an effort to strike a balance between minimizing that theoretical risk without unduly causing a real risk of blood shortages from the loss of donors.

They decided the potential danger of mad-cow disease entering the blood supply was serious enough to warrant tightening minimum standards that were imposed in 1999 and 2000. Those rules forbid anyone from giving blood if they spent six months or more from 1980 to 1996 in either the United Kingdom or France.

New Rules

The new rules, to be implemented by late November, are as follows:

-Anyone who has spent a cumulative total of three months or more in either the United Kingdom or France between 1980 and 1996 will be barred from giving blood.

-For the first time, a ban will apply to those who have been to other western European countries. Anyone who has spent a cumulative total of five years or more in those nations from 1980 to the present will be banned. The countries are: Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Republic of Ireland, Portugal, Denmark, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.

-Anyone who received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom from 1980 to the present cannot give blood.

Regulators are not requiring the "deferral" of people who spent a combined total of three months in France and the U.K. For instance, blood can still be donated if someone spent two months in France and one month in the U.K.

However, the five-year benchmark for western Europe applies to the cumulative time someone spent either in one country or a combination of time spent in all the countries.

Health Canada believes blood collectors - which have already lost about 3 per cent of their donors from previous bans - will lose another 3 per cent because of the new rules. But regulators believe this won't lead to blood shortages.

Of Canada's two blood agencies, Canadian Blood Services indicated it preferred to tighten rules for the U.K. and France while not applying a ban on the rest of Europe. Hema-Quebec has already adopted a much more restrictive approach. It bans anyone who has spent six months or more in France and anyone who has been to the U.K. for just one month or more since 1980.

Global Epidemic

Mad-cow disease re-emerged into the headlines this year when it became apparent the disorder - known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy among cows - had contaminated livestock in such countries as Germany and Spain.

Public-health officials also began warning that the human form of the disease - variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease - could one day become a global epidemic because potentially contaminated beef by-products were exported worldwide in the 1980s and 1990s.

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