US May Block All British
Blood Over Mad Cow Fear
BETHESDA, Maryland (Reuters) -- Federal advisers said on Friday the U.S. government should consider barring blood donations from people who lived in or visited Britain because of concerns about mad cow disease.
The worry is that these people may have eaten meat or meat products infected with mad cow disease, and could be at risk for getting and transmitting new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisers said. The FDA will now decide whether to direct blood banks to follow the panel's advice.
No American cattle have had mad cow disease.
The panelists said blood banks should survey donors to find out if they lived or spent up to a year in Britain or visited from 1980 to the present. After that data is gathered, a final decision on whom to block from donating blood in the U.S. can be made, the panel said.
Thirty-four people in Britain have come down with new variant CJD. Four donated blood at some point, said Jeremy Metters, deputy chief medical officer at the United Kingdom Department of Health.
The vote was 9 to consider blocking donations and six against. The panel voted unanimously that the recommendation should apply only to Britain. "We have such an imperfect understanding about what's going on," said committee member Stanley Prusiner of the University of California, San Francisco.
Prusiner won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the organism thought to cause diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.
The American Red Cross estimated that 10.7 percent, or one million units, of the current blood supply would be lost if people who had lived or travelled in Britain could not make donations.
"In a blood supply that is already marginal, a 10 percent deficit could be irremediable," said Steven Kleinman, a pathology professor at the University of British Columbia and chairman of the American Association of Blood Banks' transfusion transmitted diseases committee.
At least one million new donors would have to be recruited to replace the loss, said Richard Daly, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross. New donors are more likely to have infectious disease, he said. "It's likely therefore that taking this step in the face of a theoretical risk may actually decrease the safety of the blood supply," Daly said.