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Measures To Protect Blood Supplies from CJD

Steps are being taken to protect the blood supply from potential contamination from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).

The Ministry of Health and the New Zealand Blood Service today announced the steps being taken to maintain the safety of the blood supply and protect against the theoretical risk posed by variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).

People donating blood will be deferred where they have spent six months of more in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996. The six month period is cumulative. This action is in line with restrictions introduced in both Canada and the US. It will be implemented in mid-February. These new measures are being introduced as a precaution, and within the time recommended by the US FDA. By February, we will have completed development of systems to ensure these new measures can be introduced effectively and that we will continue to have enough blood available for patients.

New Zealand is also introducing another safety measure, leucodepletion or white blood cell filtering for all blood donations.

Chief Medical Advisor Dr Colin Feek said, "This is a case of erring very strongly on the side of caution, but we want to assure recipients of the blood products that the blood supply continues to be a safe as possible."

"No New Zealander has ever contracted vCJD - it is largely a problem for the United Kingdom. To date 50 cases of vCJD have been reported world-wide - 48 in the UK, 1 in France and 1 in Ireland."

Variant CJD is a new and more aggressive strain of the disease which was identified in the United Kingdom in 1996. It is contracted by eating beef products which have been contaminated with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis or mad cow disease). The period 1980 to 1996 covers the time before the start of the BSE epidemic in the UK to its decline, following the introduction of public health measures such as the Special Bovine Offal Ban.

Dr Feek said, "There is no evidence that vCJD can be transmitted by blood transfusions or by any type of person to person contact, but until more research is done and conclusive evidence found about how vCJD is transmitted, precautionary action should be taken to safeguard the blood supply in New Zealand."

Dr Feek said, " No doubt this announcement may concern travellers to the UK, but to date there is no evidence that people who visited the UK, even those who may have eaten beef while travelling there, have become infected with vCJD. People should continue to visit the UK, as they would have done in the past. "

However, Dr Feek said scientists are unable to predict whether there will be any more new cases of vCJD in the UK.

The New Zealand Blood Service expects it will lose about 10% of its donors from the safety measures being put in place. Blood donors concerned about this announcement or wanting further information should call 0800-GIVE BLOOD.

"To compensate for this the service will receive an extra $1-million to recruit new donors to contribute to the blood bank. However existing donors should continue to donate blood, and we encourage new donors to start."

Dr Feek said, "It is very important to stress that there is absolutely no risk to donors from CJD from donating blood."

Leucodepletion is a filtering process which removes white blood cells prior to transfusion.

‘Prions’, the infective agents of vCJD, are closely linked with white blood cells. Removing them will further reduce the ‘theoretical’ risk of vCJD transmission. Leucodepletion will cost approximately $8-million per year. Introduction of leucodepletion will be a gradual staged process, but it is expected all blood will be leucodepleted by December 2000.

Dr Feek said people who were worried that they may have vCJD should remember that it is a very rare disease, mainly confined to the UK. If there are concerns they should see their GP.

END


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