Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 23:58 GMT 00:58 UK
Scientists recommend UK blood ban
There is no proof of CJD transmission through blood donations yet
Blood donations from tourists who have visited the UK since 1980 should be banned, scientists in the United States have recommended.
They say the move is necessary to prevent the possible transmission of blood contaminated with new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human form of mad cow disease.
There have been no known cases of the disease passing from one human to another through blood but researchers suspect it is possible and the committee is urging caution.
Dr Linda Detweiler, a US Department of Agriculture vet, said: "The day you find out there is transmission, it's already too late."
Blood supply worries
Members of the FDA committee voted 12-9 in favour of restricting blood donations for some potential donors who have visited Britain since 1980.
It failed to agree on what length of stay would be necessary to disqualify a donor.
The FDA will decide in the coming months whether to order blood collection centres to turn away people with a recent history of travel to the UK.
A survey of more than 9,000 US blood donors found that 22.6% had visited Britain at least once since 1980 and that most had eaten beef during their stay.
The American Red Cross, the biggest collector of donated blood, said the FDA should not impose the ban without stronger evidence.
Dr Richard Davey, the group's chief medical officer, said blood donations are expected to fall short of demand next year.
He said: "Any deferral at this time for this theoretical risk cannot be justified at this time."
Mad cow disease, or BSE, first emerged in Britain in the mid-1980s.
Scientists eventually proved the disease could be passed to humans through infected beef products.
More than 30 Britons are known to have died from the disease.
As the FDA discussed imposing the ban the UK's deputy chief medical officer was saying the British public should not worry about the safety of its blood supplies.
Dr Jeremy Metters said: "In theory there is a risk. We accepted that 18 months ago and we decided that we would take the white cells, that are thought to be the problem, out of donated blood."