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Thursday, February 26, 1998 Published at 19:42 GMT


Government acts to reduce blood CJD risk
image: [ In future plasma will be imported from abroad ]
In future plasma will be imported from abroad

Restrictions to prevent patients catching CJD - the human form of mad cow disease - from British blood products have been announced by the Health Secretary, Frank Dobson.

BBC Health correspondent Fergus Walsh on concern over CJD being transferred in blood (1' 43")
The government plans to import plasma, the liquid part of blood, from abroad where the new variant CJD is less prevalent.

Mr Dobson said there was only a "theoretical risk" of infection from UK blood and that the measures were only a precaution.

[ image: At present there is no way to screen blood for new variant CJD]
At present there is no way to screen blood for new variant CJD
He added: "There is no new evidence about new variant CJD being transmitted via blood products or blood - the risk remains only hypothetical.

"But we must proceed on the principle that it is better to be safe than sorry.

"If there is even a hypothetical risk and there are available safe alternative sources, then it makes sense to use them."

Government adviser Professor Michael Rawlings: the risk is only theoretical (53')
Dozens of products are manufactured from plasma.

They include immunoglobulins which help treat a range of diseases such as tetanus.

Another is albumin which is given to burns patients and used as an ingredient in medicines and vaccines such as polio.

Haemophiliacs also use clotting products made from plasma.

At present, there is no way to screen the blood for signs of CJD contamination before it is used.

[ image: Dr Jeremy Metters
Dr Jeremy Metters "must take precautions"
Dr Jeremy Metters, deputy Chief Medical Officer stressed: "We must ask ourselves, do we wait and see, or do we do something about it as a precaution."

He stressed that vaccines currently used in the UK childhood immunisation programme do not contain albumin produced from UK blood products.

Blood used in transfusions also carries a theoretical risk of transmitting CJD.

However the chances of receiving a contaminated batch is much smaller than from a blood product which is made from a pool of up to 66,000 donations.

The review of UK blood products should be completed within three to four months and the switch to foreign plasma supplies is likely to take two months.

Doctors have stressed it is vital for people to continue making blood donations.


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