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Military Health System

"Mad Cow" Blood Donor Ban Lifted

Image of Graphic of blood donation from Armed Services Blood Program. Welcome back, blood donors! The Food and Drug Administration has recently updated its guidelines, and Armed Services Blood Program blood donors who were once deferred for geographic risk factors related to vCJD, commonly known as “Mad Cow” disease, or for the receipt of a blood transfusion in the U.K., France or Ireland during certain periods of time, may now be eligible to donate, provided they meet all other eligibility requirements. (Jonathon Davis, MHS)

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A decades-old blood donor ban was recently lifted by the Food and Drug Administration, potentially increasing the nation's blood supply by hundreds of thousands of donors each year.

Since the 1980s, the existence of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, referenced as vCJD and otherwise known as the "Mad Cow" disease, banned many potential donors from donating blood—in particular, those who have served in or traveled to certain countries in Europe.

In 2020, the FDA lifted the vCJD disease travel deferral for the majority of affected European countries, but it wasn't until May 2022 that it was determined to be safe enough to lift the ban for the U.K., France, and Ireland.

Now, with lifting of the ban, the Armed Services Blood Program wants to see an increase in donors with "thousands of military members and their families who had been excluded from being able to donate blood because of geographical travel or military assignment now being eligible to donate," said U.S. Navy Capt. Leslie Riggs, division chief of the ASBP.

According to the FDA, most individuals who were once deferred should now be eligible to donate blood, assuming they meet all other donor requirements.

Riggs said that "standard procedures are in place to assure that donors are healthy at the time of donation and serve as an effective safeguard against collecting blood or blood components from a donor after the onset of clinical symptoms of vCJD. Blood safety is always our top priority."

Riggs added that everyone should consider donating blood, if they are eligible.

"Blood is the most precious gift that anyone can give to another person—the gift of life," he said. "A decision to donate your blood can save a life, or even several if your blood is separated into its components—red cells, platelets and plasma— which can be used individually for patients with specific conditions."

What is the Armed Services Blood Program?

Since 1952, the ASBP has been tasked with ensuring the safety of the military's blood supply. As the official blood program of the U.S. military, the ASBP's mission is to provide quality blood products and support to military health care operations worldwide, according to Riggs. As a joint operation within the Defense Health Agency, the ASBP collects, processes, stores, transports, and distributes blood products to service members, their families, retirees, and veterans worldwide.

Seventy-two years ago, the ASBP was established under President Harry Truman and became a fully operational blood program by 1962. "Our decades-long mission of providing lifesaving support for our warfighters carries on today," said Riggs. Along with the American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, and the Blood Centers of America, the ASBP is one of four organizations that ensure the nation has a safe blood supply.

If you are interested in donating blood or checking your eligibility, visit militaryblood.dod.mil to locate a military blood donor center near you.

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Last Updated: November 10, 2022
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