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UK sent 'mad cow blood' to India

September 27, 2004 22:50 IST

Britain exported blood products that could be contaminated with the human form of mad cow disease to at least eleven countries, including India, according to a report on Monday.

Officials last week contacted five of the countries identified as most at risk from the imported blood products, which were donated by nine people who died from the variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD), The Times reported.

However, the government has been accused of "lethal secrecy" after refusing to identify publicly the five nations, which have been the subject of risk assessments by the Health Protection Agency. The suspect products were exported in the late 1990s.

The warnings were issued after two British cases were discovered in the past year, where people were thought to have contracted the brain-wasting disease from blood transfusions.

Besides India, where 953 vials of albumin was sent, the other ten recipient countries were Ireland (polio vaccine, 83,500 doses), Brazil (44,864 vials albumin, 80 vials immunoglobulin), Dubai (2,400 vials albumin), Turkey (840 vials immunoglobulin), Brunei (400 vials albumin), Egypt (144 vials albumin), Morocco (100 vials albumin), Oman (100 vials immunoglobulin), Russia (23 vials factor VIII) and Singapore (three vials immunoglobulin).

A health department spokesperson defended the decision not to name the countries. Such action was not felt appropriate, he said, and it was up to the countries in question to take action should they wish to do it.

"We are giving them the information. We have taken a very precautionary approach. Other countries may take the approach that they don't want to do anything. We are happy to advise them."

Patient bodies and politicians condemned the government's secrecy as a face-saving strategy that could hamper proper surveillance of a fatal and incurable infection. Of the more than 150 people worldwide who have died of the disease to date, 143 have been from the UK.

Frances Hall, secretary, Human BSE Foundation, which represents the families of victims, said that the government refusal was irresponsible to the population at large.

Hall's son, Peter, died from the disease at the age of 20 in 1996.

"It is being left to foreign authorities to act as they see fit, but the greatest precautions must be taken at all levels to make sure any possible vCJD infection is not passed on," she said.

"Britain, sadly, leads the way in vCJD. It is our affliction, and we should be taking full responsibility for it. This disease is a death sentence and we must take every possible precaution."

Revelations of the export list emerged after an announcement by Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, that 6,000 British patients who had a theoretical risk of vCJD infection -- having received blood products from donations from the nine vCJD donors -- were being contacted.

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