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Saturday, May 29, 1999 Published at 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK

World: Americas

US considers British blood ban

The US is concerned about the safety of its blood supply

By BBC Washington Correspondent Stephen Sackur

Concern over the possible spread of BSE - commonly known as mad cow disease - may prompt US authorities to ban blood donations from thousands of Americans who have visited Britain in the last 15 years.

No one knows for sure whether the human form of BSE, known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, can be transmitted through blood supplies, but the United States Food and Drug Administration is loath to take any chances.

An advisory panel of doctors and public health experts has been considering the wisdom of banning blood donations from people with strong British connections for months. Their conclusions will be publicised at a meeting in Maryland on 2 June.

Mad cow disease first emerged in Britain in the mid-1980s. Amid much controversy, scientists proved that the brain-wasting disease had been passed on to humans through infected beef products.

More than 30 Britons are known to have died from the disease.

US guards against BSE

[ image: Those who  have spent six months in the UK could be affected]
Those who have spent six months in the UK could be affected
Thus far, no American cattle have been infected with BSE; and American public health officials seem prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to stop it entering the human population of the US.

Dr Peter Laurie, one of the doctors advising the US Food and Drug Administration, told the BBC he would be recommending a ban on future blood donations from Americans who had spent six months or longer in the UK over the past 15 years.

He said that would dramatically reduce any theoretical risk of mad cow disease entering the US via a British connection, while at the same time safeguarding supplies of donor blood.

Experts reckon that a ban on donations from anyone who has visited Britain, even for a few days, would cut total donations by up to 20%.

The FDA could impose new restrictions on blood donors within months, and that might just prompt new questions about the safety of Britain's own blood supplies.

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