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Health

vCJD study focus on transfusions

By Amanda Scott

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The disease is similar to BSE found in cattle.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- New research suggests that the human form of mad cow disease may be transmitted through blood transfusions.

Two studies appearing in The Lancet, a British medical journal, highlight the risk of contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) through the transfusion of blood, plasma and platelets.

One study found that between 1982 and 2002, a total of 15 individuals who donated blood later went on to develop vCJD.

Of the 48 recipients of the [donated] blood and its various components (red blood cells, plasma, and components), researchers identified a 62-year old patient, who received a transfusion in 1996, and went on to develop vCJD six-and-a-half years later.

Dr. Adriano Aguzi, from the University Hospital of Zurich, who wrote the commentary on the findings said that: "They do not present direct evidence that the disease was transmitted by blood transfusion, but the chance that this case is not transfusion related is very small."

The study, which was carried out by the National CJD Surveillance Unit and the National Blood Service, cross-referenced "probable or definite" vCJD cases with blood donor lists throughout the UK.

Rakesh Vasishtha, a spokesperson for the National Blood Service, said that the majority of the people who needed transfusions were in non-negotiable situations.

"Blood is as safe as it can be," said Vasishtha. "There is always going to be a very small amount of risk from any procedure."

vCJD is a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disease found in humans. According to the World Health Organization, it is classified as a "transmissible spongiform encephalopathy" because of the sponge-like deterioration of the brain that it causes, similar to BSE found in cattle and scrapie in sheep.

There have been a total of 145 vCJD cases diagnosed in the UK since 1994. The average age of death for vCJD victims is 28.

The UK, which has instituted the removal of white blood cells from transfusions -- a process known as leukocyte reduction -- no longer sources its blood plasma from its inhabitants.


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