FAQs in Response to the Discovery of BSE in Alberta
- What is the threat of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) to Canada’s blood system?
- What is the current precautionary deferral policy with regards to vCJD?
- Given the recent case of BSE in Canada, do you plan to withdraw the policy regarding Europe?
- What measures has Canadian Blood Services taken to protect the blood system from the theoretical risk of BSE to date?
- What are you now doing to respond to the case in Alberta?
- Is there a vCJD test under development?
- Can I get vCJD from donating blood?
1. What is the threat of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) to Canada’s blood system?
The risk is extremely low, since researchers have found no evidence that vCJD can be transmitted by blood, even though the disease has been present in people in the U.K. for a number of years. Two recent studies conducted with thalassemia and hemophilia patients support this. These studies tracked patients who had been the recipients of blood products donated by people in the U.K. who had vCJD and later died of it. None of the recipients developed the disease. We’ve also seen the reverse of this: studies have been conducted to follow people who had donated blood to patients who ultimately died of vCJD. None of the people who had donated blood to the vCJD patients ever showed symptoms of vCJD.
2. What is the current precautionary deferral policy with regards to vCJD?
As a precaution against the risk of vCJD, people are not eligible to donate blood or plasma in Canada if they have spent a cumulative total of three months or more in the United Kingdom (U.K.) between 1980, and 1996, or if they have spent a cumulative total of three months or more in France between 1980, and 1996, or if they have spent a cumulative total of five years or more in Western Europe outside the U.K. or France since 1980. In addition, people are not eligible to donate blood or plasma if they have had a blood transfusion in the U.K., France or Western Europe since 1980.
The U.K. includes England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, Channel Islands. Western Europe includes: Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Republic of Ireland, Netherlands, Austria, Liechtenstien, Portugal, Denmark.
3. Given the recent case of BSE in Canada, do you plan to withdraw the policy regarding Europe?
While the policy is reviewed regularly, there are currently no plans to change it because the situation in Europe is far more serious than the situation in Canada. There have been more than 180,000 cases of BSE in the U.K. alone since 1986, and other European countries have had hundreds of cases. By contrast, this is only the second case of BSE in Canada – the first being from a cow that was imported from the U.K. in 1987.
4. What measures has Canadian Blood Services taken to protect the blood system from the theoretical risk of BSE to date?
BSE has been an ongoing concern for Canadian Blood Services. We began tracking it closely when we were formed in 1998. We drafted our first deferral policy in 1999. The policy has been reviewed every year and was revised in 2000, 2001, and again in 2005. We have continued to track the situation in other countries and maintain a state of readiness should something like this occur in Canada.
Beyond that, we introduced a process called leukoreduction in 1999 which removes the white blood cells from every unit of blood we collect. This is one of the key protective measures taken by the U.K. to reduce the risk of vCJD to its blood system.
5. What are you now doing to respond to the case in Alberta?
We’re gathering the latest information and bringing together some of the best scientific minds on this topic to assist us in developing our course of action. We’re working with our Scientific and Research Advisory Committee, which includes scientists from the U.K., the United States and Canada. At the same time, we’re working closely with Health Canada to stay on top of the ongoing investigation in Western Canada.
While the risk remains theoretical and remote, we want to ensure that we have access to the very best expertise and the latest information on this matter so that we can make the best decisions for Canadians.
6. Is there a vCJD test under development?
No screening test is available for people who may have been exposed to BSE, therefore there is no known method of detecting vCJD before symptoms appear. In fact, the only way to be sure of a diagnosis is by examining the brain after death.
A great deal of international research is underway on such a test, but it is not expected to be available in the short term. However, it’s important to understand that the occurrence of vCJD cases worldwide is on the decline -- even in the U.K -- and that the risk of transmission of vCJD through blood remains only theoretical.
7. Can I get vCJD from donating blood?
No. There is no risk of vCJD transmission from blood donation.