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Transmission of prion diseases by blood transfusion.

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Fiona Houston, IAH Compton.

Since the discovery of a link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and new variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease in the late 1990s (vCJD), there have been concerns about the possibility of transmission of vCJD by blood products. Approximately 4000 people in the UK have been estimated to harbour vCJD, so the potential for transmission between people is an extremely important factor in determining the risk of the human epidemic becoming self-sustaining as the incidence of BSE declines. In the past 2 years, there have been 3 cases of vCJD transmission attributable to blood transfusion, indicating that this is not merely a theoretical risk. As a result, millions of pounds are being spent in the UK alone on leucodepletion and importation of blood components, to minimise the possible risks associated with clinical use of these products. However, to assess the effectiveness of these measures, an experimental model is required. We have demonstrated that sheep infected with BSE by the oral route provide a suitable model: the distribution of PrPSc and/or infectivity in lymphoid tissues closely resembles that of vCJD patients, and the infection can be transmitted by transfusion of volumes of blood similar to those collected from humans. The results of these studies and plans for future work will be presented and discussed.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminar Programme, Department of Veterinary Medicine series.

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