Irish MDs Told To Minimize
Transfusions Over Mad Cow Fears

DUBLIN (AFP) - Irish doctors were urged on Monday to be cautious about giving blood transfusions in order to minimise the risk of transmitting infections, amid fears that the human form of mad cow disease could also be passed on.
"In particular, the possibility that variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD) may be spread by transfusion cannot be discounted as the present time," guidelines issued by the National Blood Users Group (NBUG) state.
NBUG, which was set up by the government in 1999, said the full risk of blood infections could not currently be defined.
In a statement, Health Minister Micheal Martin said: "The objective must be to avoid unnecessary blood transfusions."
A series of meetings this month will decide whether up to one in four of Ireland's blood donor pool should be banned from giving blood because of concerns about vCJD, the fatal human version of mad cow disease.
No case has ever been discovered of vCJD being spread by blood.
"It is huge dilemma," a Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) spokeswoman said.
"It is a theoretical risk but you have to act on the basis there could be transmission."
Experts are considering rejecting two categories of donors in a strategy that would have serious implications for maintaining supplies of blood for Irish hospitals.
The ban would hit people who have had blood transfusions in Ireland between 1980 and 1996 and also people who lived in Britain and other countries suffering from BSE for a total of six months at any time during the 16 years.
The ban on people who have received transfusions in Ireland is because of a risk that they could have received blood donated by people exposed to BSE from eating imported beef or from people who had lived in BSE countries and had been exposed there.
Despite the fact that one in four of Irish people need a transfusion once in their lifetime, only five percent of the population -- or about 100,000 people -- donate blood.
Ireland has had only one case of vCJD, involving a woman who had lived in the UK.
The blood bank has had major problems in the past with the infection of more than 1,600 people, most of them women, with Hepatitis C and HIV.
A judicial tribunal is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding infection of people suffering from the blood clotting disorder haemophilia.
More than half the country's 400 strong haemophiliac community were infected and more than 70 have died, some of them young children.

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