- Thousands of people who received blood products prior
to 1999 are to be warned they may be incubating variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
Disease (vCJD), the human form of mad cow disease.
- Health chiefs are to take the unprecedented step of writing
to all those patients who received the blood from donors who subsequently
died from the brain-wasting disease.
- The move, ordered by the department of health in England,
is the strongest sign yet that ministers are preparing for a new epidemic
of the disease spread through blood.
- Until now, they have always maintained that infection
through a transfusion is a "theoretical risk".
- The letters are to be sent out to patients, including
hundreds of Scots, at the end of September after the Health Protection
Agency carried out a risk assessment on UK patients who received blood
or plasma products, prior to all plasma being sourced from the US in 1999.
- It is understood the letters will urge each patient to
contact a specialist. The vCJD risk assessment, first announced by Westminster
Health Secretary John Reid in December last year, was ordered at the time
as a precautionary measure after a patient who had received a trans fusion
from someone with vCJD also died of the disease.
- Although the donor showed no signs of the condition when
they gave blood in 1996, they developed the disease in 1999 and subsequently
died from vCJD. The recipient of the blood died in the autumn of 2003 and
at a post-mortem vCJD was found in their brain.
- On December 17 last year Reid told the Commons that the
case was "not a proven causal connection" but that "the
possibility of this being transfusion-related cannot be discounted".
It was the first report in the world to warn of the possible transmission
of vCJD from person to person via blood.
- In March he banned blood donations from anyone who had
received a transfusion since 1980 to prevent vCJD being spread.
- The department of health last night refused to reveal
the outcome of the risk assessment, but it is understood that behind-the-scenes
talks have been ongoing with senior health officials and groups such as
the Haemophilia Society about the potential outcome of the exercise.
- Other categories of patients, such as those with leukaemia,
burns victims and pregnant women, can all be treated with blood products.
But those most exposed are likely to be haemophilacs who use the products
to help their blood to clot.
- The latest figures from the National CJD Surveillance
Unit in Edinburgh show the number of deaths in the UK definitely or probably
caused by vCJD now stands at 147. However, news of the department of health
move has fuelled fears of a new epidemic of vCJD, the human form of BSE,
- Bruce Norval, a haemophiliac from Fortrose, near Inverness,
said: "It's very possible that we will have a secondary epidemic via
blood from the initial victims who contracted vCJD by eating infected beef."
- Scientists have estimated that almost 4000 people could
be harbouring vCJD, based on studies of appendix samples.
- A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We have
asked the HPA to lead on preparations for notifying patients who have received
plasma products, and we have been working with the agency, clinicians'
representatives and patient groups."
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