Blood Banks Urged to Discourage CFS Donors

The AABB, formerly known as the American Associated of Blood Banks, has called upon its members to discourage patients with chronic fatigue syndrome from donating blood because of concerns over the transmission of the human retrovirus XMRV , first linked to the condition last Autumn.

Conclusive evidence confirming the link  between XMRV and CFS has not yet been established, but the findings of Harvey Alter, an infectious diseases specialist from the US National Institutes of Health, created quite a stir at a private workshop last month, with a slide that described the XMRV-CFS association as “extremely strong and likely true, despite the controversy.” Estimating that XMRV and other related viruses  are present in the blood of 3-7% of donors, Alter recommended steps to protect the US blood supply  against contamination with the virus – advice which the AABB has firmly taken on board, with the issuing of a bulletin last Friday recommending, as an interim measure, that its member blood collectors should actively discourage CFS donors not to give blood, in order to avoid transmission of XMRV into the blood supply.

Concerns about the potential transmission of XMRV through blood surfaced after the initial publication in the US journal Science, last October, of a study conducted by Lombardi et al (Science 2009;326:585-589), which found that XMRV was common to 67% of ME patients, compared with fewer than 4% of healthy controls.  The researchers, from the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Nevada, also reported that they could secondarily transmit the virus from the blood cells and plasma of infected patients with CFS, raising the possibility of blood-borne transmission.

The AABB made the interim recommendation after its Interorganizational Task Force – comprised of representatives from patient groups, experts on XMRV, as well as US government agencies – reviewed the current evidence on XMRV and its risk of transmission. Meanwhile, patient forums are frantic with discussions of XMRV, with hopes of conclusive information and explanations as to the cause, and potential treatment, of CFS and related conditions.

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