Australia lifts ban on UK residents giving blood

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An Australian rule banning many former UK residents from giving blood over fears they could spread Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) has been scrapped.

For two decades anyone who lived in the UK during its “mad cow disease” crisis has been barred from donating.

In rare cases, the fatal illness has been spread through blood transfusions.

But citing a review of epidemiological data and expert advice, Australia’s health regulator said the cohort would no longer be excluded.

People who lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996 will soon be able to roll up their sleeves to give blood or plasma.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is estimated to affected 180,000 cattle during the outbreak. Its human form – vCJD – has been attributed to 178 deaths.

It’s thought that one in 2,000 people in the UK is a carrier of the disease. But it appears that relatively few who catch the infectious agent that causes the disease then go on to develop symptoms.Australia’s blood donation service, called Lifeblood, hopes the long-awaited move will unlock new donors at a time when high demand is straining stocks.

“It’s the number one query that we’ve had for change in Australia over the last few years and certainly, anecdotally, lots and lots of people are telling us that this change will enable them to donate,” executive director Cath Stone said.

“We are optimistic that we’ll see tens of thousands of new people.”

Lifeblood is working to update their screening processes to accommodate the change, but those who want to donate will be able to by the end of the year.

With a weekly need for 33,000 donations, the organisation is hoping barriers to donation for men who have sex with men will also soon be removed.

Australia was not alone in banning donations from former UK residents – others included France, the US and Canada.

But other countries have begun to lift or relax the restrictions, after Ireland lifted its ban in 2019.

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