Travel restrictions limit blood donations

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    By Kyle Gee

    Although a fatal brain disorder in humans linked to Mad Cow Disease has never been transmitted through blood, recent blood donation restrictions prevent donors who have lived in Europe from ever being able to give their blood.

    BYU hosts more than 60 American Red Cross blood drives a year, but students and employees who have spent a total of six months or more in Europe are ineligible to give blood at those drives.

    “It”s for life — I can never give blood again,” said Bethany Rane, from West Palm Beach Fla., who found out she could no longer give blood after serving a mission in Bordeaux, France.

    In 2002, the American Red Cross adopted new blood donation eligibility guidelines to ensure that variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease, a rare, progressive and fatal brain disorder that occurs in all parts of the world, is not transmitted from blood donors to blood recipients.

    The new restrictions declare ineligible any donor who has spent a total time of three months in the United Kingdom or six months in any of more than 50 countries in the UK, Eastern Europe, Western Europe or other specific areas since Jan. 1, 1980.

    “We want our blood to be the very safest that it can be for the recipients of that blood,” said Dr. Annie Strupp, medical director for the American Red Cross in Utah, Idaho and Montana.

    Strupp said there is no evidence that vCJD can be transmitted from donors to patients through blood transfusions.

    “To date there has never been a vCJD transmitted through blood in any part of the world,” she said.

    However, since there is no test to screen donors for vCJD, blood collection agencies must take special screening precautions and avoid collecting blood from those who have spent time in the areas where vCJD is widely found.

    “We do much to check the blood before it goes to the patient,” Strupp said. “There are always multiple levels of safety. The American Red Cross is interested in protecting both the blood donor and the recipient.”

    Basic donation eligibility guidelines require donors be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, have not donated blood in the last 56 days and feel healthy the day they wish to donate.

    Before any blood is collected, a potential donor fills out a blood donation record asking specific questions about the donor”s health history. Afterward, each potential donor receives a brief examination during which temperature, pulse, blood pressure and blood count are measured.

    “Although our testing is very good, no test in medicine is 100 percent accurate,” Strupp said. “The blood donation record adds an important layer of safety to the tests we perform.”

    Before the vCJD guidelines were implemented, the American Red Cross conducted a telephone survey to determine how many potential donors would become ineligible under the new blood donation restrictions, said Judy Christensen, communications manager for the American Red Cross in Utah, Idaho and Montana.

    Christensen said the telephone survey indicated that six percent of Utah donors and four percent of donors nationwide would be ineligible because of time spent in European countries. The top reasons why people had been to those countries were because of church missions and military assignments, Christensen said.

    “A significant number of donors won”t be coming back,” Strupp said.

    From July 2001 to June 2002, BYU hosted 70 blood drives with an average of 67 donors at each, said Ruth Riggs, department administrator in the American Red Cross donor recruitment office.

    “BYU is definitely a big contributor to helping us with our cause,” she said.

    Rane, who organized a blood drive in high school and used to give blood before her mission said, “Whenever I see blood drive signs on campus I always want to go.”

    Even though she can no longer give blood, Rane said she understands why the restrictions are necessary.

    “It”s definitely not worth the risk to have bad blood in there,” Rane said.

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