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Government confirms second case of vCJD transmitted by blood transfusion

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.329.7460.251-a (Published 29 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:251
  1. Stephen Pincock
  1. London

    A second case in the United Kingdom of variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD) that may have been transmitted through a blood transfusion has been been confirmed by the National CJD Surveillance Unit, the Department of Health has said.

    The case involved a patient who had a blood transfusion in 1999 from a donor who later went on to develop vCJD. The patient died of causes unrelated to vCJD, but a post mortem examination showed the presence of disease causing prion proteins in the patient's spleen.

    “After the first person to person transmission of vCJD was indentified it was expected that further cases may follow,” the health department said in a statement. “This second case is of particular scientific interest as the patient had a different genetic type to that so far found in patients who have developed vCJD.”

    Few details of this second case were available, but a detailed account will be appearing soon in the Lancet, the government said. At the same time, ministers said they would tighten restrictions on blood donations in an effort to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease.

    Since April this year people who have received a blood transfusion since January 1980 have been excluded from donating blood.

    On advice from the Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Blood and Tissue the ban will be extended from 5 April next year to donors who are unsure whether they have had a blood transfusion and to apheresis donors who have previously had a blood transfusion.

    “We are continuing to follow a highly precautionary approach,” the health secretary, John Reid, said. “Although people may have concerns about the implications of this announcement, I would emphasise again that the exclusion crieteria are being tightened because of a small but unquantifiable risk. People should continue to have a blood transfusion when it is really necessary. Any slight risk associated with receiving blood must be balanced against the significant risk of not receiving that blood when it is most needed.”

    Mr Reid stressed that the risk attached to this group of blood donors is uncertain. “But we are taking these measures as a precaution, as the risk may be slightly higher than for the population as a whole.”

    The previous case of possible blood transmission of vCJD—thought to be the first in the world—was reported by the government in December last year.

    Three people have died of definite or probable vCJD so far this year, and 18 people died of the condition during the whole of last year. The total number of definite or probable cases, dead and alive, now stands at 147.