Mad cow infected blood ‘to kill 1000?

A little-reported study last summer concluded the prevalence of this “silent”
vCJD is likely to be twice as high as previously thought.

These 30,000 carriers can unknowingly pass on the infectious proteins – known
as prions – to new potential sufferers through donated blood.

Because so little is known about vCJD, there is no telling which carriers will
go on to develop the disease or whether any new cases will actually
materialise at all.

There have been no new cases for two years and there are thought to be no
surviving sufferers of vCJD, which has always historically proved fatal.

However a new risk assessment published this month by the Government’s Health
Protection Analytical team reveals that infected blood donations could cause
up to 1,000 deaths in a high case scenario.

About half of the cases could develop in people who have already received
blood transfusions and up to 580 cases from people who are yet to be
infected with the disease. The central estimate of infections yet to occur
is 205.

It suggests ministers could consider recruiting young blood donors born after
1996 once they become eligible, as they will not have eaten infected beef.

“The number of “silent” vCJD infections associated with transfusion would be
much higher than the number of clinical cases,” it said. “It is therefore
important to maintain, and if possible enhance, measures to prevent onward
transmission of infection, notably the exclusion of recipients from donating

Mr Dobson, the former Labour Health Secretary, said “everything humanly
possible should be done to develop a blood test”.

“There is no room at all for complacency,” he told The Daily
. “With a blood test, you would be able to screen every
potential donor. If that screening showed the incidence was higher than
thought then maybe you would do it for the whole population.”

Professor John Collinge, an expert from University College London, whose
research unit has developed a blood test for vCJD, said there is an element
of “wishful thinking” within the Government, with officials hoping the
problem has gone away.

He said he is “sceptical of guesstimates” of future cases and believes
ministers need to start a study of vCJD in blood, rather than appendices, to
get a proper grip on the risk of infection through transfusions.

“The figure of one in 2,000 in the appendix study was pretty worrying,” he
said. “I was pretty alarmed by that. It’s clear there is a very substantial
pool of infection in the community. There needs to be blood testing to
answer this question of prevalance properly.”

Sir Paul Beresford, an MP and former Conservative environment minister, also
believes the Government must wake up to the potential for future vCJD
infections and is campaigning for more filtering of donated blood.

“If we’ve got it wrong our grandchildren are going to potentially have an
epidemic of vCJD that we can do nothing about but we can prevent it if we
act now,” he said.

“There’s some quite simple things they can do. For example, there’s a new
system that’s being developed that will filter red blood cells before

“[The system] is not adequate at the moment but the Government’s argument is
that there’s no sign of a risk because the number of people turning up with
vCJD is going down. But it can take 10, 15, 20, 25 years for this to pop up.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the Government continues to
encourage “people of all ages to give blood”, adding “we have one of the
safest blood supplies in the world”.

“Independent experts from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood,
Tissues and Organs have used this study during their considerations of
measures to reduce the potential risk of transmission through blood
transfusions,” she said. “There is no evidence of any UK clinical cases of
vCJD being linked to a blood transfusion given after 1999.

“In fact there have been no new cases in the UK for more than two years.”

She said the study relates to people’s future potential to develop vCJD, not
actual new cases that have occured.

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