US worried as restrictions on blood donors tighten

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 01 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:469
  1. Deborah Josefson
  1. San Francisco

    The American Red Cross, which provides about half of the nation's blood supplies, is expanding its ban on blood donations to all of Europe.

    From this month, the Red Cross will reject blood donations from anyone who has lived or spent a cumulative total of six months or more in any European country since 1980.

    This extends the current American Red Cross ban on blood from people who have spent a total of three months or more in the United Kingdom since 1980 or who have received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom from 1980 onwards.

    The decision is controversial as it will further reduce the nation's tenuous blood supply. The other main source of supply is locally controlled community blood banks.

    Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also considering tightening its restrictions for blood donors. In June an FDA advisory committee recommended that the agency broaden the ban on UK blood donors to include those who had lived in France, Ireland, or Portugal for five or more years.

    Blood donations from people who have lived in the United Kingdom for more than six months since 1980 were banned nationwide by the FDA in 1999. The advisory committee would tighten that to three months or more.

    The new ban, if implemented, would cut the US blood supply by up to 4% Particularly affected will be states such as New York, which imports an estimated 25% of its blood from Europe.

    Although no known cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD)—the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)—have been transmitted through blood transfusion, the theoretical possibility exists. BSE has been transmitted to experimental animals via blood transfusion (BMJ 2000;321:721).

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