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vCJD blood donation worry.

Byline: Lyndsay Moss

Patients who have received transfusions are to be banned from donating blood themselves amid concerns over vCJD.

Health Secretary John Reid told MPs experts had advised a ban on blood donation on anyone who has received a transfusion since January 1980.

Dr Reid said the move would 'inevitably lead to a reduction in the supply of blood available for transfusions' as about 52,000 donors would be excluded.

The move comes after the Government announced in December that a patient died of the disease, the human version of BSE, after receiving blood years earlier from a donor who contracted vCJD.

The case was the first of its kind recorded in the world and prompted concern from doctors, MPs and the public.

Dr Reid said the ban was being put in place to avoid the 'slight risk' of the transmission of vCJD.

'We are following a highly precautionary approach.

'Although people may have concerns about the implications of this announcement, I would emphasise again that this action is being taken because of an uncertain but slight risk.

'People should, indeed, continue to have a blood transfusion when it is really necessary.

'Any slight risk associated with receiving blood must be balanced against the significant risk of not receiving that blood when it is most needed,' Dr Reid said.

He appealed for people who can donate blood to continue to do so -around 1.7 million people in the UK regularly donate blood at the moment.

In December the Government said 15 other people were known to have received blood from donors who subsequently developed vCJD. At the time, experts said although a coincidence could not be ruled out, the chances of both donor and recipient independently falling victim to the killer brain disease were remote.

Dr Reid insisted this was still a 'possibility, not a proven causal connection'.

He also said the 15 survivors had been contacted and informed 'about the circumstances of their case'.

Dr Reid said the ban would apply for those receiving transfusions after January 1980 because it was 'generally accepted that there would have been no exposure to BSE in the UK before that date'.

Measures will be put in place to help compensate for the thousands of donors lost due to the ban.

Dr Reid said transfusions should only occur where there was a 'clear clinical need' and doctors should increase their efforts to make 'more appropriate use of blood' since more was currently used than was clinically necessary.

Dr Reid said the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, would be producing a strategy to ensure more appropriate and effective use of blood stocks in the NHS.

'People who can, should continue to give blood.

'Blood donation is a safe procedure and people should continue todonate blood regularly. We place great value on those who donate and would welcome new donors,' he added.

The move came after the expert advisory committee on the Microbiological Safety of Blood and Tissues for Transplantation was asked to consider the need for any further precautionary measures.

Earlier this month figures from the Department of Health showed an increase in the number of people dying from the disease last year.

According to the National CJD Surveillance Unit, 18 people died from vCJD in 2003, compared with 17 in 2002.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 17, 2004
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