NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Britain's "Mad Cow" Disease May Cut U.S. Blood Supply

February 2, 1999

Due to the outbreak of "mad cow" disease in Britain beginning in 1996, some and possibly all Americans who have visited the country since 1980 could learn they are not welcome to donate blood here. Screening out visitors to Britain would cut donations by 11 percent -- thus creating shortages and postponing surgeries.

The U.S. precaution arises from the recommendations of a committee of experts gathered together by the Food and Drug Administration.

  • Daily, some 40,000 donors are needed to maintain the nation's blood supply for patients being treated for accidents, routine surgeries and diseases.
  • Blood donors are screened for influenza, HIV, hepatitis and malaria -- among other conditions.
  • Some 1.9 percent of donors later report risk factors that should have kept them from donating -- and 0.4 percent posed risks within three months of donating.
  • Failure in the 1980s to screen out donors at high risk of transmitting the AIDS virus caused about 4,800 Americans to contract HIV through transfusions, experts report.

Furthermore, although there have only been 34 confirmed cases of "mad cow" disease in humans, Britain plans to completely phase out the use of blood donated by its citizens -- buying the country's entire blood supply from abroad, possibly from the U.S.

Source: Editorial, "Potential Threat to Blood Supply Emerges, Demanding Caution," USA Today, February 1, 1999.


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