if Infected Beef Werent Scary EnoughWhats in
the Nations Blood Supply?
By Catherine Clyne
A talk paper released by the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) on August 17 1999, entitled New Precautionary
Measures to Reduce the Theoretical Risk of New Variant CJD From Blood
Products, announced the release of guidelines to blood donor centers
to exclude potential donors who have spent six or more cumulative
months in the U.K. between January 1, 1980, and December 31, 1996 from
donating blood. The fear is that people who dined on British beef
may be carriers of the infectious agent that causes Bovine Spongiform
Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease. BSE is understood
to be transferred to humans by eating infected cow flesh and is linked
to the fatal human spongiform disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).
Since CJD has a long and invisible incubation period, with symptoms showing
up as much as a decade after inception, it is feared that the disease
could theoretically be passed on unwittingly by infected
blood donors. According to the American Red Cross, the ban will eliminate
2.2 percent of all blood collected, about 500,000 donors.
The recommendation that people who ate British beef nearly
20 years ago not donate blood, speaks volumes. The prion (a protein gene)
that causes BSE is known to withstand incineration and is therefore not
eliminated by cooking. It does not respond to current disinfectants or
sterilization processes, leaving the possibility of infected medical instruments
as well. It seems that the lid is barely on CJD and that it may be more
prevalent than government agencies would like to admit.
The situation is reminiscent of the early 1980s when little
was known about the transferal of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV),
believed to be the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Many people who regularly rely on blood products, such as hemophiliacs,
and some who underwent surgery requiring blood transfusions, became infected
with HIV. Scientists now know how to screen blood products for HIV; however,
we are right back in that bloody nightmare with CJD. According to the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the cause of CJD is thought to
be an unconventional filterable agent. Currently, there is no test to
detect a patients immunologic response to the infection and the
etiologic agent has not been identified. The exact mode of transmission
in humans is not known. (emphasis added) In the U.S., CJD is suspected
of often being misdiagnosed as Alzheimers disease or other types
of fatal dementia. So little is known about the disease and how it is
transferred that the possibility that more people could have the disease
and that blood products could be infecting people is now a scary reality.
Take for example the tragedy of Doug McEwen of Kaysville,
Utah. CJD is understood to strike about one in a million people around
the world, most of them over the age of 50. Mr. McEwen died of CJD this
past March. He was only 30. Because he was so young, his is considered
to be a rare caseonly five in one billion people aged 30 or under
are known to have CJD. But these people are considered to have the new
variant of the disease, while a biopsy from McEwens brain
seemed similar to classic CJD. It is unknown how
McEwen got the disease. He reportedly hunted and ate wild game, including
elk and deer, which are known to carry chronic wasting disease, another
degenerative illness found in animals. However, his family members ate
the same meat and they have not shown symptoms of CJD. McEwen spent some
time in Canada doing missionary work well over a decade ago. He could
have ingested infected meat then. Perhaps...maybe. The fact is no one
knows. What is known is that a young American man died of CJD.
TThere is more to this sad story: Mr. McEwen was a frequent blood donor.
He donated 22 times between 1996 and 1998. His plasma was shipped to the
Bayer pharmaceutical company, which broke it down into various blood products
that were then shipped to 46 countries around the world. His family is
concerned that he may have unwittingly passed on the infection through
his donations. In an article in USA Today (1/19/99), his wife Tracie McEwen
expressed her concern: He donated well after his symptoms started.
He was at the point where he was forgetting phone numbers and names, but
if Id thought he had a fatal disease, he wouldnt have donated.
While health authorities publicly claim that there is
no concrete evidence demonstrating that CJD can be transmitted through
blood transfusion and consider it only as theoretical, the
FDA swiftly quarantined all of the blood products containing McEwens
plasma since January 1998. However, the plasma donated before then has
already been used. Theyve tried to assure me it cant
be transmitted that way, says Tracie McEwen, but shes not
convinced. I dont think they know. Surprisingly, McEwens
plasma was later released because he was considered to have classic
According to the FDA, CJD is a rare but invariably
fatal degenerative disease associated with a poorly understood transmissible
agent. CJD cases occur by an unknown mechanism. It may also be acquired
by exposure to infectious material; or may be familial, caused by a genetic
mutation of the prion protein gene. Basically, the neurological
system deteriorates to the point that large holes are created in the brain.
During an 18-year period (1979-96), 4,468 cases of CJD were reported to
the CDC, although it is not mandatory to report the disease. Just imagine
how many unreported and undiagnosed cases there may be.
In 1996, reports the FDA, a previously
unrecognized variant of CJD was described almost exclusively in the U.K.,
and is referred to as new variant CJD (nvCJD). NvCJD is linked to
BSE and over 40 people have died from it. According to the FDA, however,
no cases of the new variant have been detected in the U.S. So, the reason
that the FDA gives for the release of blood known to have been donated
by people with classic CJD, including McEwens, is that
information and laboratory studies have indicated that transmission
of the CJD infectious agent by blood products is highly unlikely.
(emphasis added) In contrast, however, nvCJD gives cause for alarm: No
evidence exists that the disease has been transmitted by blood transfusion,
but current studies cannot exclude this possibility. What is going
The World Health Organization reports that CJD is known
to have been transmitted through the use of contaminated human pituitary-derived
growth hormone or gonadotropin, dura mater [brain and spinal membrane]
grafts, corneal transplants, and neurosurgical instruments. Even
conventionally sterilized surgical instruments can infect. The CDC offers
some suggestions for disinfection, but their overarching position is:
The minimum requirements for decontamination procedures/precautions
for materials potentially contaminated with the agent causing CJD are
UNKNOWN. (caps theirs)
The American and Canadian governments have issued notices
to hospitals, families and individuals warning that the blood transfusions,
insulin and albumin that patients and loved ones have received may have
been infected with CJD. A mother received a notice stating that certain
lots of albumin [a blood protein] were prepared from blood donated by
individuals who were subsequently diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease
(CJD). According to our records your child received some of this product
before it was recalled. To date there has been virtually no evidence that
your child will develop CJD. Therefore, there is little reason for concern.
But we also know that the more informed you are about this situation,
the more reassured you will feel. (Note that the notice makes no
distinction between nv and classical CJD.) Reassured, Im sure. Such
notices have completely changed the lives of people because they do not
know if they or their loved ones are infected or whether they will come
down with CJD in the next decade or so. Its a terrifying question
mark to have hanging over ones life.
In January, advocacy groups, such as the Center for Food
Safety and the Humane Farming Association, and CJD victims and their families,
filed two formal petitions to the FDA and the CDC calling for aggressive
monitoring of CJD cases in the U.S., and demanding that animal feed regulations
ban the feeding of animal remains to farm animals. To date, no decisive
action has been taken with the exception of the FDAs recommendation
to turn away blood donors who have lived in England.
Only five percent of eligible donors give blood annually,
which currently is not enough to supply demands. Since our general readership
falls into the low-risk category as carriers of CJD, we at Satya
urge our readers to donate blood. Blood is precious and always needed.
This is one act of compassion that we can make for our society.
To find a blood donor clinic near you, call the New York Blood Center
at 800-933-2566. For more information on CJD and BSE, visit www.mad-cow.org.
© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.