Montreal

Hema Quebec may relax donor criteria

Hema Quebec says it may soon allow prospective blood donors present in Europe during the Mad Cow disease outbreak to donate blood.

Only three per cent of Quebec adults give blood

Hema Quebec may soon allow prospective blood donors who lived in Europe during the Mad Cow disease outbreak to donate blood.

The outbreak began in England in 1984 when a cow developed strange symptoms and soon died. More unexplained deaths followed, and scientists began chasing down clues. It took two years before the British made their first diagnosis of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, in November 1986.

Almost five million cattle were slaughtered to stop the spread of BSE, but not before almost one million cows had made it into the food supply.

Since the late 1990s, anyone who spent at least one month in Great Britain, three months in France or six months in Western Europe during that period cannot donate blood in Quebec because of the risk of passing on Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human offshoot of BSE.

The practice has excluded thousands of Quebeckers from donating blood, including Clara Bonnes, who lived in France during the outbreak.       

Bonnes told the CBC that giving blood helps the community and she is disappointed that she can't contribute.

Right now there is no acceptable test to detect Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in potential blood donors.

But as more scientific data about the risks becomes available, the Hema Quebec will amend its donor criteria, said the agency's Marc Germain.

The change, which would give the agency access to a much wider base of donors, could come within a matter of weeks.

At least 1,000 donors are needed each day to keep the province's hospitals stocked with a healthy supply of blood.

Hema Quebec says it has not run into shortages, even though only three per cent of Quebec adults give blood.