The Irish Blood Transfusion Service has reversed a 15-year-long donor deferral policy for people who have lived in Britain because the transfusion transmission risk of a human form of a disease commonly known as 'Mad Cow Disease" is now considered to be remote.
The first case of Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was reported in Britain in 1996 and in November 2004 the IBTS introduced a permanent deferral for a one-year residency in Britain between January 1980 and December 1996
The blood bank lost around 10,000 donors who were annoyed that they could no longer give blood.
“The evidence now available allows the IBTS to overturn this deferral and reinstate those donors,” said IBTS chief executive, Andrew Kelly.
A special meeting of the board's medical advisory committee in April considered the evidence and it later decided to reverse the permanent deferral for residency.
IBTS medical and scientific director, Prof Stephen Field, said the deferrals were introduced as a precautionary measure at a time when there was great uncertainty about the BSE/vCJD outbreak.
“The number of cases of vCJD to date and the predicted number of future cases have been significantly lower than has been anticipated,” said Prof Field.
Four cases of transfusion-transmitted CJD occurred in Britain and three patients developed vCJD. The fourth patient had no symptoms but was found to have abnormal prion protein following a post mortem examination. In all four cases, the donors were well at the time of donation but later developed vCJD.
Prof Field said the blood transfused to the four patients who developed vCJD was not leucodepleted – the white cells had not been removed before transfusion – a measure introduced by the IBTS in 1999 to reduce the risk of transmitting vCJD by blood transfusion.
“No cases of transfusion-transmitted vCJD have occurred worldwide with blood that was leucodepleted. Blood transfusion cannot be guaranteed to be 100% safe; there will always be some risk associated with transfusion, but the risk of transmitting vCJD by blood transfusion is now considered to be remote,” he said.
Other changes include the reinstatement of the collection of corneas from deceased Irish donors by the Irish Eye Bank. However, permanent deferrals will remain in place for several individuals including those who have received donated eggs or embryos since January 1980.