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Variant of Mad Cow Disease May Be Transmitted by Blood Transfusions, According to Animal Study
Date:8/28/2008

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Blood transfusions are a valuable treatment mechanism in modern medicine, but can come with the risk of donor disease transmission. Researchers are continually studying the biology of blood products to understand how certain diseases are transmitted in an effort to reduce this risk during blood transfusions. According to a study in sheep prepublished online in Blood, the official journal of the American Society of Hematology, the risk of transmitting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, commonly known as "mad cow disease") by blood transfusion is surprisingly high.

BSE is one of a group of rare neurodegenerative disorders called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), and there is no reliable non-invasive test for detecting infection before the onset of clinical disease. In addition to BSE, these diseases include scrapie, a closely related disease in sheep, and Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans, which causes neurological symptoms such as unsteadiness and involuntary movements that develop as the illness progresses, rendering late-stage sufferers completely immobile at the time of death.

A new variant of CJD (termed vCJD) was recognized in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s, apparently as a result of the transmission of BSE to humans. Because the symptoms of this disease can take many years to appear, it was not known how many people might have been infected, and without a reliable test for identifying these individuals, clinicians were very concerned that the infection could be transmitted between people by blood transfusion or contaminated surgical and dental instruments. As a result, costly control measures were introduced as a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of disease transmission, although at the time it was unclear whether there really was a significant risk or whether the control measures would be effective. This sheep study sought to better understand how readily
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SOURCE American Society of Hematology
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