THOUSANDS of people could be passing on mad cow disease through blood transfusions, a leading expert has claimed.
Professor Marc Turner, medical director for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. has warned thousands of people could potentially be carrying Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) which could be unknowingly passed on through blood transfusions.
An estimated 2000 thousand Scots are thought to be “silent” carriers of the defective proteins which have caused people to develop the brain wasting illness, which can kill sufferers in 12 to 18 months.
A lack of knowledge surrounding the variant form of the disease makes it impossible to predict which carriers of thee proteins will go on to develop the disease, or if new cases will emerge.
UK Government experts recently claimed that one in 20,000 Britons carry a dormant form that could be passed on in blood donations.
Mr Turners said: “We know vCJD can pass through blood transfusion, what’s unknown is whether what we’ve done collectively so far in terms of precautionary measures has been enough to mitigate the risk of transmission. The key issue is whether [donors] have any evidence of infection in their blood.
“Unfortunately it has proved very technically demanding to develop a vCJD blood test due to the very low levels of abnormal prions you might find in the blood of such individuals.”
He added: “If we can get a test which we know is sensitive enough to pick up people who are incubating the illness and specific enough not to falsely identify people then yes, that would be a good thing.”
Mr Turner also said that most people over the age of 16 or 17 would have been exposed to BSE in the food chain especially during the 1980s and warned that in principle those exposed could have been infected with a form of vCJD.
He said this kind of disease could have an incubation period of up to
50 years but there was no certainty the dormant form would ever become active.
The professors comments come after a report claimed that up to 1000 people could die from the disease through infected blood given to them n hospitals, according to a risk assessment by the UK Government’s Health Protection Analytical team. The total death toll from vCJD currently stands at 176.
Last month, the founder and former chief executive of leading Scottish social care charity, Nick Baxter died after contracting sporadic CJD, one of the four forms of the disease.
Mr Turner did not have the human form of mad cow disease.
Politicians and experts said the findings in the Government’s report were worrying and backed a call for nationwide screening of blood donors.
A Department of Health spokesman said it would continue to encourage people to give blood.
He said: “There is no evidence of any UK clinical cases of vCJD being linked to a blood transfusion given after 1999. There have been no new cases in the UK for more than two years now.”