Mayo Clinic lifts blood donation restrictions put in place in 1999 due to mad cow disease

Mayo Clinic lifts blood donation restrictions put in place in 1999 due to mad cow disease

Mayo Clinic lifts blood donation restrictions put in place in 1999 due to mad cow disease

If you’ve been turned down from donating blood in the past, you may be able to roll up your sleeves now.

Mayo Clinic announced this week it will start accepting people who had been deferred from donated blood since 1999. Those people had either lived in or traveled to certain parts of Europe and the reason they could not donate is because of fear of spreading mad cow disease.

In a release about the changes, a doctor with the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Program explains why there was a concern.

“In 1996, the United Kingdom first reported a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that was being contracted by eating beef products from contaminated/infected cattle. This new variant, commonly called ‘mad cow disease,’ affected younger people and could be passed from person to person through blood transfusion,” Justin Juskewitch, M.D., Ph.D., associate medical director of the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Program, explained, adding: “In 1999, the United States Food and Drug Administration began to defer potential blood donors who were at increased risk for having this disease [traveling or residing in Europe for extended periods of time].”

In May, the FDA lifted the last restriction surrounding this concern — since, along with Mayo Clinic, the Red Cross and Memorial Blood Centers (MBC) also started welcoming those who were previously deferred.

“It is big news,” Phil Losacker, community relations manager with Memorial Blood Centers, said. “I’ve worked here for 20 years [and] over that time, the change in those recommendations, from the FDA, has been minimal and this change is a significant one to see come through.”

MBC said changes in mad cow disease criteria now allow the following groups to donate:

  • People who spent time in the United Kingdom from 1980-1996
  • People who spent time in France and Ireland from 1980-2001
  • People who received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom, France, and Ireland from 1980-present

These changes are coming at a time of need — Losacker says from the recent poor weather to fewer blood drives because more people work remotely, the last year has been slow for blood donations.

“The need doesn’t really change,” Losacker added. “The need is pretty constant from day to day, from week to week, and month to month.”

As for the impact this could have, the Red Cross reports, “This eligibility change will potentially impact hundreds of thousands of individuals who were previously ineligible to give blood or platelets, including many in the military community who have served overseas.”

One of those includes David Adriansen, a veteran who could not donate blood because of his active duty tours in Europe.

“I’d always wanted to give blood but I was always restricted,” Adriansen told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

But his restriction was recently lifted.

“It was, it was a fantastic feeling,” Adriansen added about donating blood for the first time after all that time.

Adriansen sits on the board for the Minnesota & Dakotas Red Cross and has for nine years — he’s also a nearly 50-year Red Cross volunteer. That, on top of his active duty service, gives him a great understanding of the importance of donating.

“I look forward to the rest of my life giving blood,” he said. “Every time you give blood, it affects three people’s lives. So, we like to say, saving three lives, or three lives affected, for every unit of blood donated.”

Learn how you can donate blood at the following: