CJD risk set to cost blood service pounds 70m

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BRITAIN will have to spend up to pounds 70m a year importing blood plasma products from the US, because of the risk of transmitting "human BSE" through UK-source blood products, following a government decision yesterday.

The measure will significantly raise the costs of the National Blood Service from its present pounds 200m annual budget. It follows a review by the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) on the risk that "new variant" Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (v-CJD), caused by the BSE infective agent, could be passed in plasma.

Instead, more than 300 tonnes of plasma will have to be imported from the US, at a cost of pounds 20m. The MSF union, which represents blood service staff, said the cost of extra precautions needed to filter donated blood in future would amount to around pounds 50m.

The CSM decided that "although there currently no evidence that v-CJD can be transmitted by blood, there is nevertheless a theoretical risk". No tests exist for the presence of the agent in plasma, but scientists suspect that it somehow attaches itself to white blood cells - commonly found in plasma.

Plasma products have a wide variety of uses, including the treatment of burns, and preventive treatments for hepatitis. In December, the Department of Health admitted that up to 3,000 people in 100 hospitals could have been treated with products made from plasma donated by a person who died of v-CJD.