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Red Cross Barrring Blood Donors with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Posted Dec 07 2010 12:00am

I was surprised to learn that the Red Cross has decided to reject potential blood donors with known chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) (see: XMRV: Red Cross Now Barring Blood Donors Who Have CFS ; registration required). I posted a previous blog note relating to XMRV and the blood supply (see: Recently Described Virus, XMRV, May Threaten Our Blood Supply ). This action by the Red Cross is intended to theoretically avoid passing this virus to blood recipients. Below is an excerpt from the article:

The controversy over whether the retrovirus XMRV is linked to chronic fatigue syndrome has still not been resolved, but the American Red Cross has just weighed in. The organization said...that as a result of concerns over XMRV, it is barring people with a diagnosis of CFS from donating blood. In a press release, the Red Cross said that there isn’t enough data yet to determine for sure that XMRV is transmitted through blood transfusions or that it causes diseases. But “in the interest of patient and donor safety,” the organization said it was indefinitely barring blood donations from people with CFS. ...[I]t’s likely that a number of recent events prompted today’s announcement. In June, a task force set up by the AABB, an organization whose members collect most of the blood in the U.S. and to which the Red Cross belongs, urged members to discourage people with CFS from donating blood. More recently, a group of researchers at the FDA, NIH, and Harvard Medical School published a paper that linked a family of viruses to which XMRV belongs to CFS. A federally funded task force has been studying whether XMRV poses a threat to the nation’s blood supply since last year, when a paper in Science first raised the possibility that XMRV was not only linked to CFS but was also found in the blood of healthy people. Later this month, the task force is expected to present a report on its work to an FDA committee that looks at blood safety issues. The FDA is in charge of regulating the blood supply but yet hasn’t changed its recommendations on donations from people with CFS.

The official statement of the Red Cross on this issue (see: American Red Cross Statement on XMRV and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome ) contained the following paragraph:

An AABB Interorganizational Task Force is charged with reviewing all available data, making recommendations for further action to assess the risk of XMRV transmission through blood transfusion, develop mitigation strategies as needed, and to provide information for blood donors, recipients and the public. The AABB Taskforce released Association Bulletin #10-03 in June 2010, recommending that blood collecting organizations — through the use of donor education materials available at the donation site — actively discourage potential donors who have ever been diagnosed by a physician with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), from donating blood or blood components....The Red Cross has implemented the AABB recommendations and has gone further to implement indefinite deferral for donors who reveal a history of a medical diagnosis of CFS.

It seems to me that the Red Cross is taking its cues with regard to this matter from the AABB . It may be the case that both organizations are trying to be proactive regarding XMRV transmission because of what may have been perceived as their slow response to the AIDS epidemic in its early days. This ban on CFS donors may be largely an academic exercise and launched primarily to reassure the public about the safety of our blood supply. My prediction is that few individuals diagnosed with CFS will present themselves as blood donors. In other words, this ban will little immediate affect on our blood supply. Stay tuned, however. A blood test for XMRV is being developed in at least one research lab (see: Whittemore Peterson Institute Scientists Discover Significant link between XMRV and ME/CFS ). Will such a test, when and if it is proved to be valid, be used to screen all donated blood? It's possible that a large swath of the population has been exposed to this virus and will have antibodies to it.

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