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DoD Tightens Blood Donation Rules Due To 'Mad Cow'

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2001 – DoD believes stepped up recruiting efforts will make up for a narrowed blood donor pool caused by restrictions that begin next month because of "mad cow" disease concerns.

The new DoD restrictions start in mid-September and dovetail with tightened U.S. Food and Drug Administration donor guidelines, now in draft form, that are designed to prevent possible contamination of the U.S. blood supply by the human variant of "mad cow" disease, said Army Col. Mike Fitzpatrick, director of the Armed Services Blood Program. The FDA, he noted, licenses DoD's blood donation centers.

Fitzpatrick said the new restrictions don't signal increased danger to troops and families living in Europe, who are still considered to be at low risk from contracting the disease. The European Union, he noted, maintains very strict standards for blood products.

"People should not be concerned about the quality of blood they might receive in Western European hospitals, Fitzpatrick said.

"Remember a blood transfusion is only performed under extremely dire circumstances," he added, "and the consequences of not receiving blood far outweigh the minor theoretical risk of acquiring the disease from the transfusion."

According to the new DoD restrictions, all personnel -- including active-duty military, civil service employees, and family members -- will be indefinitely banned from donating blood:

  • If they traveled or resided in the United Kingdom for a cumulative total of three months or more at any time from 1980 through the end of 1996.
  • If they received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom at any time from 1980 to the present.
  • If they traveled or resided anywhere in Europe for a cumulative total of six months or more at any time from 1980 through the end of 1996.
  • If they traveled or resided anywhere in Europe for a cumulative total of five years or more at any time from Jan. 1, 1997, to the present.

Mad cow disease, first identified in the United Kingdom in 1986, is a fatal, brain-wasting ailment medically known as bovine (cow) spongiform encephalopathy, said DoD veterinary officials. The disease is believed to have spread through contaminated animal feed. Fewer than 100 cases of the human form of the malady, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, have been reported, mostly in Britain. There is no vaccine or cure for the disease. It usually kills its victims within 18 months at the onset of symptoms.

Humans who've contracted variant CJD seem to have ingested contaminated meat, DoD veterinary officials said. However, those officials believe service members and their families living in Europe have little risk of getting the disease by eating commissary meat products, since those products are procured outside the United Kingdom.

The Defense Department currently bans blood donations from people if they had lived in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996 for a cumulative total of six months or more, officials said. The new DoD blood donor rules basically mirror standards proposed by the FDA. American Red Cross rules that start in September are even stricter, barring donations from anyone who has been in Europe for more than six months from 1980 to the present.

Armed Services Blood Program Deputy Director Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Sparks estimated the changes would reduce DoD's donor pool by about 18 percent. Each year DoD collects about 130,000 pints of blood to obtain 110,000 usable blood units, she said.

"We need a vigorous donor recruitment campaign, and that is currently under way," Sparks said. "We are going to get out there and encourage our DoD donors and beneficiaries to donate so that we can make up this deficit."

Fitzpatrick said current American Association of Blood Banks rules allow people to donate blood up to five times a year, or roughly once every 10 weeks.

Plans are also under way to add blood recruiting and collection personnel at key military donation sites at basic training facilities at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio; Great Lakes Naval Center, north of Chicago; and Fort Jackson, S.C., Fitzpatrick said.

He said the military blood program would receive almost $3 million in additional funding to pay for the information program and the hiring of additional blood donor recruiters and other personnel. Fitzpatrick estimated replacing the blood of newly ineligible donors would cost DoD up to $8 million on the civilian market.


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Related Sites:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) web site

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