LONDON: Britain has warned 14 countries that were recipients of British blood products exported in the 1990s could be at risk of developing the human form of mad cow disease, the Health Protection Agency confirmed Tuesday.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by The Guardian reveal for the first time which countries received the approximately 170 batches of blood plasma exported by the Bio Products Laboratory between 1990 and 1997.
The warnings about the blood products were first made in early 2004 following a risk assessment of the British supply, the Health Protection Agency said, although the countries were not publicly identified until after the Freedom of Information request was filed in April 2005.
The new details emerged following revelations that nine British donors who had completed 23 donations to the general pool all died from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or vCJD.
The 14 countries that received the blood products were Brunei, the United Arab Emirates, France, India, Israel, Jordan, the Netherlands, Oman, Singapore, Belgium, Morocco, Egypt, Brazil and Turkey, the Health Protection Agency said. The latter two are considered more at risk than the other countries due to the particular types of products they received.
The risks are unknown to a great extent, but we have to take as many precautionary measures as possible, said Rakesh Vasishtha, national communications director for the National Blood and Transport Authority, which handled the shipments.
The warnings followed the death of vCJD in December 2003 of a British patient who had received a blood transfusion from a donor not known to have been infected with the disease.
It was thought the transfusion was the source of person developing CJD, Vasishtha said. There was too much of a coincidence there.
No British plasma products have been exported to other countries since 1999, he said.
The Health Protection Agency said the British government had advised the 14 countries to consider undertaking their own health assessment risks, including whether to inform potential recipients of the blood products, which consist of a mixture created from a part of blood.
In Britain the approximately 6,000 patients who received the blood products have been notified of the risks and were informed not to donate any blood or tissue and to alert any doctors ahead of any surgical procedures.
Wednesday marks the lifting of a 10-year ban on British beef exports. There have been 110 confirmed deaths to date in Britain from the human variant of mad cow disease.
BSE, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was first identified in British cattle in the mid 1980 s after the discovery that ground-up cow carcasses were being used to feed cattle. By the mid-1990 s, more than 160,000 infected cows were identified in Britain, as the export of British beef ground to a massive halt.
By 1996, 10 cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of BSE that results in fatal brain degeneration, were reported in Britain, thought to stem from people eating infected beef. AP