blood-donor-cp-4887458

Canada has banned blood donations from anyone with chronic fatigue syndrome as a precaution. ((Michael Paulson/United Blood Services/Associated Press))

Canada has banned donations from anyone with chronic fatigue syndrome as a precaution.

There is no definitive link between the virus found in some people with chronic fatigue, but Canadian Blood Services said it will err on the side of caution with the new restriction.

Canada is the first country to ban donations from people with chronic fatigue, said Dr. Dana Devine, head of medical and scientific research for Canadian Blood Services.

"Well, I think we're stepping out of the gate [first] for two reasons," Devine said Wednesday. "One is that we have a concern about this virus because we don't have enough information, and because we also don't understand what actually does cause chronic fatigue syndrome."

The retrovirus XMRV belongs to the same family as HIV and the virus has been found in some prostate cancer cells. It's thought that perhaps like HIV, XMRV may be transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids or blood transfusions.

Its not known how prevalent the virus is or whether it causes disease. But Canada's cautionary approach comes from its history of pathogens in the blood supply years ago, which continues to affect the agency's decision making, said Devine. 

During the 1980s, tens of thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV or hepatitis C after receiving blood through the Red Cross.

The right message?

Kathy Murdoch, a trained nurse who heads a support group in Winnipeg for people with chronic fatigue syndrome, understands the importance of a safe blood supply, but she thinks imposing a ban doesn't send the right message.

"Things are coming up every day that we don't know about. It has a negative connotation, you know, like we don't want you," Murdoch said.

For blood donor Tim Hiebert, 23, the ban against donors with chronic fatigue syndrome is reassuring.

Hiebert said he's too young to remember the tainted blood scandal and compensation, but for him, the blood donation program is meant to try to help people and "not put them in any sort of dangerous situation."

The ban doesn't apply to Quebec, which has a separate blood services agency.

Canadian Blood Services said the decision shouldn't affect the blood supply. About 300,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, and many are too sick to donate.  

The blood agency does not think the ban will have much of an impact on the country's blood supply.