Our mail box is always full of advertising flyers and today was no exception. The exception came when rather than chucking it straight in the recycling bin, I took it home. The flyer caption was “Project Fire Engine Red – Blood Donor Clinic.” Strange that this had suddenly popped up as only a few days ago I was discussing blood donations with my in-laws.
Since the age of 17, I have been a regular blood donor in Scotland and have proudly given over ten pints during the last 6 years (although my dad will boast that he has given over 50 since he started donating!). So the flyer prompted me to pick up the phone and call for an appointment. I spoke with the nurse and she asked if I was a first time donor, as she didn’t have my details on file. I informed her that although this would be my first Canadian donation, it was by no means my first time – I went on to tell her about moving here from Scotland.
I was shocked (and furious) when the nurse informed me that I am NOT A CANDIDATE (and probably NEVER will be) for blood donation in Canada. Why? Because I lived in Europe between the years of 1980-1996….. and am therefore considered to be at risk of hosting a CJD (Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease) infection.
Prompted to try and find some basis for this discrimination, I have spent the last few hours trawling the internet for facts on the history of CJD in both the UK and Canada. Unfortunately, I’m unable to find conclusive UK infection figures for the years 1980-1996. However, the advance of the disease in the UK was not believed to have peaked until at least 2001 (BBC, 2005) so I think that the figures I have found (for 1995-2004) are still relevant in considering my ‘risk’ as a donor. So, according to the BBC (British Broadcasting Cooperation) 141 people in the UK died of the disease during this 1995 – 2004 period, or an average of 14 in each of these 10 years. Now, rounding The UK’s 2001 national census figures down slightly to 58,789,000 (to make the math easier) that means that there was approxiately one CJD fatality per 4,199,000 British residents, per annum. Not to be obtuse, but considering that Scotland has a population hovering around 5 million in recent years – its conceivable we could have had only ONE person per year fatally infected with the disease!
It is estimated that, worldwide, between 0.5 and 1 case of CJD per million population occurs annually. A recent review of mortality data in the United States has shown that the average annual incidence of CJD in that country is 0.9 deaths per million population. Overall, 334 deaths attributed to CJD were recorded in Canada in the 15-year period from 1979 to 1993. The number of deaths ranged from 14 to 34 per year (Public Health Agency of Canada).
I know that these statistics are not the easiest to compare, but I think you see my point – that CJD does not only affect Europeans! Nor is the infection apparently any more common in Europe than North America.
“Every 60 seconds, someone in Canada requires blood or a blood product!” (Canadian Blood Services, 2009).
“One unit of blood can save or improve up to 3 lives.” (Canadian Blood Services, 2009)
So what’s the issue? Why don’t scientists get on with developing a blood test that can identify CJD and start saving lives by freeing up ‘risky’ donors like myself. A blood test has been in the pipe-line for years now but due to the fact that it carries a small risk of identifying the disease in people that are not actually affected, completion of development and production hasn’t been encouraged. The issue is that legally donors would have to be told if their CJD tests were positive, even if there was a chance that the test result was false.
If he doesn’t die of a blood transfusion/lack of transfusion then surely the hospital food will finish him off!
“1 in 2 Canadians is eligible to give blood. Last year 1 in 60 actually did.” (Canadian Blood Services, 2009).
Maybe this would help…
Drive through blood