Ban on blood donations from people who lived in UK during CJD era to end

IBTS says restriction led to loss of some 10,000 donors since introduction in 2004

A ban on blood donations being taken from people who lived in the United Kingdom for a year or more between 1980 and 1996 has been lifted by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS).

The ban was introduced in November 2004 following the outbreak of “mad cow” disease – BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). There were concerns about the risk of acquiring variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) by eating meat from infected cattle.

The IBTS lifted the ban on foot of evidence that the risk of transmitting vCJD through blood transfusion was now considered to be “remote”.

People who spent a year or more in the UK, including Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, between the start of 1980 and end of 1996 will be eligible to donate blood from October 7th next.

Andrew Kelly, chief executive of the IBTS, said the restriction had led to the loss of about 10,000 donors who were annoyed at not being allowed to provide blood since 2004.


“The IBTS has to protect the patient who receives blood and this step was necessary at that time,” he said. “The evidence now available allows the IBTS to overturn this deferral and reinstate those donors.”

The IBTS’ move follows a special meeting of its medical advisory committee held in late April to consider the evidence. Stephen Field, IBTS medical and scientific director, said the number of cases of vCJD to date and the predicted number of future cases “has been significantly lower than had been anticipated”.

Four cases of vCJD which had occurred in the UK are the only known cases of the disease being transmitted by transfusion, he said.

Mr Field also pointed out that the blood transfused to the four patients in the UK who developed vCJD had not had white cells removed from it, a process called leucodepletion which the IBTS has used since 1999.

In addition, the IBTS said that people who have had root canal treatment in the UK, or surgery there involving the appendix, tonsils, lymph nodes and spleen, will now be eligible to donate.

Permanent deferrals on donations will remain in place for certain individuals, including those with a family history of CJD, who had received human growth hormone or donated eggs or embryos since January 1st, 1980.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times