Britain To Import Blood Plasma Because Of 'Mad Cow' Risk
By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain Thursday authorized its National Health Service to import blood plasma to protect the public against the ``theoretical risk'' of contracting the human equivalent of mad cow disease. Health Secretary Frank Dobson said the move followed three recalls of blood products in November because donors contributing to British-made plasma developed Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). ``This will reduce the possibility of repeated recalls of blood products in the future and thereby help to help to maintain public confidence in these products,'' he said in a statement in which he stressed that the measures were purely precautionary. ``We have no evidence to show that nvCJD (the new variant of
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) can be transmitted via blood products or blood - the risk remains only hypothetical. But we must proceed on the principle that it is better to be safe than sorry,'' Dobson said. Britain decided on the move on the advice of the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines which also suggested blood from donors suspected of having nvCJD should be recalled. Previously recalls were limited to confirmed cases of the brain wasting disease. Dobson also announced that only synthetic versions of the blood clotting agent Factor VIII would be given to hemophiliacs. ``Though the risk of nvCJD transmission is hypothetical, nevertheless the fear of it is very real to this group which has previously been affected by both HIV and Hepatitis C transmitted from Factor VIII,'' Dobson added. The British Medical Society and medical experts welcomed the
move. ``Although the risks are very, very tiny, the public has a right to be informed and to be assured that the Department of Health is taking effective action to secure a safe supply of blood products,'' the professional organization said. ``We have always taken, and will continue to take, all practicable precautions to protect patients and the public health,'' Dobson said. ``If there is even a hypothetical risk and there are available safe alternative sources of products, then it makes sense to use them.'' The measures are the latest safety precautions since the government announced that there could be a connection between the new strain of CJD and mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), nearly two years ago. The news led to an EU export ban on British beef. Last year scientific studies confirmed that eating contaminated beef was the likely cause. Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham earlier this year banned beef on the bone as another safety measure. Scientists think BSE, which first broke out in British herds
in 1986, was caused by the use of cattle feed containing material from the carcasses of sheep that died from a related brain disease to cattle.

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