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From: TSS ()
Subject: British blood products may pose vCJD risk in 14 countries
Date: May 1, 2006 at 7:30 pm PST

British blood products may pose vCJD risk in 14 countries

∑ UK issues warning on 'mad cow disease'
∑ Documents show Brazil and Turkey are high on list

James Meikle and Rob Evans
Tuesday May 2, 2006
The Guardian

The government has been forced to warn 14 countries that patients are in danger of developing the human form of mad cow disease as a result of contaminated British blood products sold abroad.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that patients in Brazil and Turkey are most at risk from the products, although it is too early to know how many, if any, foreign patients may develop the incurable variant CJD, as it takes many years to appear. The Turkish authorities said they had traced patients at risk and were closely monitoring them, while Brazil would not comment.

The contaminated blood products were exported in the 1990s by the British government to treat conditions such as haemophilia, severe burns and immune deficiency. At the time the government considered there was no risk.
Twenty-eight people abroad have already developed vCJD by eating cattle meat from Britain infected with BSE. However, the dangers of another route of transmission are now becoming more evident. Scientists are worried about a "second wave" of casualties caused by blood donated by people infected but not yet displaying symptoms of the disease.

The risk of passing on the disease in this way was considered only theoretical until December 2003, when it emerged that a patient in Britain had been infected through a blood transfusion, leading to new safety measures. Another two cases have since been identified. Health authorities then had to re-examine blood products sent abroad by the state-owned company Bio Products Laboratory (BPL).

The documents show that, following the rethink, the Health Protection Agency was concerned "about the potential infectivity of blood". Believing the potential risk of vCJD to be "very uncertain", the agency advised the Brazilian and Turkish health ministries to take precautions to reduce the possibility of spreading vCJD as "sufficient quantities" of the "at-risk" products had been exported.

These measures included tracking down patients and telling them not to donate blood, organs or tissues. Patients are also told to inform doctors and dentists if they need any treatment.

In Britain, up to 6,000 people were considered to be at risk. The problems stem from the way blood products are made, from processing thousands of separate donations. The concerns arise from just 23 donations made by nine people who went on to develop vCJD, showing how minute amounts may be infectious.

The NHS Blood and Transplant Authority, which is responsible for BPL, said: "So far no vCJD cases have been linked to plasma products ... The use of products derived from British blood plasma was ended in 1999 as a precautionary safety measure because of what were then regarded as only theoretical risks. But cases where patients might have been put at risk before that date have since come to light as further cases of vCJD have been diagnosed in people who were blood donors. Since 2004, no one who received a blood transfusion after 1980 has been allowed to donate blood themselves."

The Health Protection Agency decided that patients in six countries - Brunei, UAE , India, Jordan, Oman and Singapore - had been put in less jeopardy than those in Brazil and Turkey, but might need to take precautions. Less dangerous batches were imported by Belgium, Morocco and Egypt. France, Holland and Israel were advised to carry out their own assessments, as manufacture of the blood products was completed in their countries. The French government concluded that there was no danger from the products, which were re-exported to 10 unnamed countries.

The Guardian has previously reported that patients worldwide may have been exposed to vCJD, but the documents detail for the first time the countries, the amounts and the risk assessments. British authorities cannot say how many patients abroad may now be in danger.

There have been 161 cases of vCJD in Britain. There are 15 cases in France, four in Ireland, two in the US, and one each in Canada, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Spain.

Some of these victims are known to have caught vCJD by eating infected beef in Britain. Most others live in countries that have also had outbreaks of BSE that may well have originated from Britain.

Graham Steel, whose brother Richard died from vCJD, drew parallels to the spread of BSE. "[It is] eerily reminiscent of the 1980s when 'theoretically' infectious meat and bonemeal was exported by the UK around Europe and beyond despite the fact that the risks of spreading diseases were known about in 1972-73. A total recall was deemed too expensive.",,1765531,00.html


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