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'Mad Cow' Concerns Prevent Some Troop Blood Donations

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2001 – It has been more than a year since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned blood donations from any persons, including service members, who had a total of more than six months of residence in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996.

That restriction, implemented to prevent the possible contamination of the U.S. blood supply by the human derivative of "mad cow disease," is still in force, said Air Force Maj. Ron Alford, deputy director of the Armed Services Blood Program. He added that the FDA required the ban be implemented by all licensed blood collection agencies including DoD by April 2000.

"We required that our centers fully implement the policies by the end of February 2000," he said.

The FDA ban chiefly affects about 35,000 Air Force personnel and their family members, who'd been stationed in England, Alford said. "Many have separated or retired and are no longer in the DoD blood donor pool," he added.

The FDA ban doesn't significantly impact the department's blood supply "since DoD only collects about 120,000 units of blood a year, compared to approximately 12 million units collected by other agencies," Alford said. The largest collector is the Red Cross, which accounts for about half of all U.S. blood donations, he said.

The Food and Drug Administration licenses DoD's blood donor centers, Alford said, "Whenever the FDA provides guidance for changes in operations of donor centers, particularly with donor qualification, we immediately adopt those standards," he noted.

Last year's FDA guidance also banned potential blood donors that had a history of taking insulin derived from cows, he said.

Alford said mad cow disease is a brain-wasting ailment medically known as bovine (cow) spongiform encephalopathy. The human form is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, he added.

Scientists theorize that the agents that cause the two diseases can pass within the target species by exchanges of infected fluids and tissues, but they have not proved or disproved a trans-species link, according to Web site research sources.

On the other hand, both mad cow disease and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are incurable and fatal, he noted.

Alford said the FDA ban affects troops who've been stationed in England, the Channel Islands, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He added that the FDA is also considering expanding the ban to prospective donors who've accumulated more than 10 years of residency or travel in Portugal, France or the Republic of Ireland.

"If the FDA does implement that (new) policy, it certainly would be binding on all of its licensed donor centers, to include DoD's," he said.

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Related Sites:
Centers for Disease Control 'Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and New Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease' Web site

Related Articles:
DoD Says Troops in Europe Safe From 'Mad Cow'

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