Blood test for vCJD may be here by summer

A NEW blood test for the human form of mad cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD), could be available this summer.

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service’s national medical director Dr William Murphy said yesterday he is hopeful EU approval for the test could be secured soon.

The blood bank would be asking for e3 million a year in Government funding to include the test in its screening process. Currently, blood donations are tested for a range of different conditions, including syphilis, hepatitis and HIV.

Dr Murphy said the Canadian manufacturer, Amorfix Life Sciences, claims it can detect infected people who have not developed the disease but may be able to transmit it through their blood.

The blood bank is looking at how it will manage concerns, in particular the number of false positives that it is likely to throw up.

“When we test people for HIV we get a number of false positives every year but we know they are false positives because there are additional tests we can do. We do not have that kind of back-up test for vCJD.”

The blood bank will only be able to tell donors they tested positive for vCJD.

“That has implications for people. It is going to cause anxiety and it is going to cause issues around insurance and social life as well.”

He was speaking at a press conference organised by the National Haemophilia Council to reassure people with haemophilia about the risk of infection of vCJD from clotting products made in the past from donors.

A man in his 70s with haemophilia, who recently died in Britain, had evidence of vCJD infection. A postmortem found evidence of vCJD in his spleen.

About 50 Irish patients who used British plasma-derived products, have been informed of the news.

Chief executive of the Irish Haemophilia Society Brian O’Mahony said it might indicate that what was until now a theoretical risk might be an actual one.

“We are keeping this in perspective, however, because there have been a couple of thousand people with haemophilia in Britain who have received these products in the 1980s and 1990s and we have not seen a single clinical case of vCJD anywhere in the world.”

The National Centre for Hereditary Coagulation Disorders in St James’s Hospital, Dublin, has set up a helpline (1800 200 849) for anyone with concerns.

lwww.haemophilia.ie.

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