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The CJD Surveillance unit .

BMJ No 7133 Volume 316

News Saturday 7 March 1998

9.1 UK blood products are banned

Precautionary measures to protect patients against the theoretical risk of contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) from blood products from donors in the United Kingdom were announced last week by the Department of Health.

Imported plasma will now be used while a review of plasma from donors in Britain is conducted over the next four months. The action, initiated by the Committee on Safety of Medicines, follows three recalls of blood products last November because donors developed variant CJD. The committee also advised an extension of recalls of blood products to include donors subsequently identified as being strongly suspected of having variant CJD. Previous recalls were based on confirmed cases only, which total 23.

The health secretary, Frank Dobson, said: "We have no evidence to show that new variant CJD can be transmitted via blood or blood products - the risk remains hypothetical. But we must proceed on the principle that it is better to be safe than sorry."

The NHS Bio Products Laboratory, part of the National Blood Service, will be allowed to import plasma to manufacture blood products, to reduce the possibility of repeated recalls in the future. This will be costly as the laboratory processes 600 tons of plasma worth 57m ($91m) every year from blood donations in Britain. Imported plasma will be subject to thorough checks. Companies using blood products were advised to avoid British stocks if possible.

Limitations are also being imposed on the use of the clotting agent factor VIII for the treatment of haemophilia. Recombinant factor VIII, a synthetic version, will be used for children aged under 16 and new patients.

Some 33 products are made from plasma, including immunoglobulin and albumin, though vaccines currently used for childhood immunisation do not contain albumin from donors in Britain. Blood products are used to treat 350,000 patients a year in Britain. Whole blood is not affected by the new measures, but the National Blood Authority has been instructed to prepare a strategy for the possible removal of white blood cells from donations by the process of leucodepletion should it be required (see p 717).

John Warden