Time Spent in Europe Means No More Time in the Blood Donation Center
May 21, 2001 (Washington) -- In an attempt to protect the
nation's blood supply from mad cow disease, the American Red Cross said Monday
that starting in September, people who have spent three months in Britain or
six months in the rest of Europe can no longer donate blood to the
"This is a judgment call," Bernadine Healy, MD, tells
WebMD. The president of the American Red Cross notes that scientists still
don't know a lot about mad cow disease and how it is transmitted, nor do
doctors have a test to screen for it. But organizations like the Red Cross
still have to function when all the answers are not available.
"The nature of medicine, when [you] don't have complete
scientific information, is to make a judgment and then you modify your judgment
as more science comes along," Healy says.
Mad cow disease is a degenerative brain disease in animals.
Infected animals act crazy, or "mad," displaying changes in mood such
as nervousness or agitation and having difficulty standing up, and usually die
within two weeks to six months. Mad cow disease seems to spread to people
through eating infected beef. There is no proof yet that it or its human
counterpart, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, spreads through blood. But
getting prepared in case there is a risk to the blood supply has become a real
Healy adds that the ban could be temporary, lasting until
doctors have a better way to gauge who might have contaminated blood. But for
now, the Red Cross is making its new donation restrictions.
Under the Red Cross policy announced Monday, donations will be
- Anyone who has lived in the U.K. for a total of three months or longer
- Anyone who has lived anywhere in Europe for a total of six months since
- Anyone who has received a blood transfusion in the U.K.
The new rules are much stricter than those recommended by the
FDA, although according to a report from Monday's Wall Street Journal,
the federal regulators are still discussing policy on mad cow disease and the
blood supply -- something that affects not only blood for transfusions but also
blood products that help patients with clotting problems.
Experts worry that the conflicting guidelines will further
confuse the public about the baffling disease.
Last year, the federal government banned blood donations from
anyone who spent a total of six months in Britain between 1980 and 1996, when
that country was the epicenter of the mad cow outbreak.
But with mad cow disease spreading throughout Europe, in
January scientific advisers to the FDA recommended banning donations from
anyone who spent a total of 10 years in Portugal, France, and Ireland since
1980. The expert panel, which included some of the nation's top mad cow
experts, concluded that these countries were of most concern but said the risk
there was lower than that in Britain.