- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
American Red Cross, one of two large blood collection agencies in the United
States, said on Tuesday it would support new blood donation restrictions
because of growing concerns about mad cow disease in Europe.
- Mad cow cases are mounting in many European countries
and U.S. officials are considering expanding their ban on blood donations
by people who spent time in Britain during the height of the crisis. Experts
fear people who ate tainted beef may pass the human form of the fatal disease
to others who receive blood transfusions.
- The Red Cross said it would back extending the ban to
include France, where mad cow cases rose sharply last year, and all of
Western Europe ``given the growing evidence of (mad cow disease) in those
- ``We must be cautious to ensure the safety of America's
blood supply for vulnerable patients,'' the Red Cross, which collects about
half of the nation's blood, said in a statement.
- No cases of mad cow disease, known as bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE, or its human equivalent have been detected in the
- But there is no blood test for the disease. As a precaution,
U.S. health officials prohibit people from donating blood if they spent
six months or more in Britain from 1980 to 1996. A committee of outside
experts that advises the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is scheduled
to reevaluate the policy on Thursday.
- The Red Cross suggested the committee also consider shortening
the six-month time frame for people who were in Britain and extending the
exposure period from 1980 to the present. Both measures would prohibit
more people from giving blood.
- Concern About Shortages
- When the ban was announced in August 1999, blood banks
raised concerns it could lead to dangerous blood shortages.
- The Red Cross estimated its new proposals would reduce
the current number of its blood donors by between 5 percent and 6 percent,
and the group called for a national campaign to boost giving by eligible
- America's Blood Centers, which collects the other half
of the nation's blood supply, said it would remind the FDA panel that any
new restrictions would further strain the system.
- ``We've been seeing the worst blood shortages in this
country we've ever seen in the last year, and we're concerned that if the
ban is extended to other European countries, that could put us over the
edge,'' Jim MacPherson, chief executive officer for America's Blood Centers,
said in an interview.
- Most cases of the mad cow disease have been found in
Britain, where at least 80 people have died from the human version, known
as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, as well as two in France.
- Much remains mysterious about the infectious, brain-wasting
disease but scientists believe it is caused by proteins called prions that
can mutate into dangerous forms.
- Experts have been uncertain about whether humans can
pass the disease through blood. A study published last September heightened
concerns when scientists in Scotland said they had transmitted the disease
to a sheep that received a tainted blood transfusion.
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