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Time Spent in Europe Means No More Time in the Blood Donation Center

WebMD Health News

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 organization.


"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 controversy.


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 banned from:

  • Anyone who has lived in the U.K. for a total of three months or longer since 1980.
  • Anyone who has lived anywhere in Europe for a total of six months since 1980.
  • 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.

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