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[News article 16/08/2002]
Frozen plasma, imported from the US, will be used to treat babies and young children to reduce the risk of contracting the human form of mad cow disease.
The Department of Health says the product is intended for children born after 1995 as they will not have been exposed to BSE through the food chain.
Earlier this month it emerged that the risk of the human form of BSE - variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) - being transmitted through blood transfusions might be considerably higher than previously thought.
Tests at the Institute of Animal Health revealed one in six animals given blood from sheep infected with a similar disease went on to develop the illness, suggesting that there was an "appreciable" risk to humans.
Public health minister Hazel Blears said: "Although there is no evidence that vCJD has been transmitted through human blood, it is right that we should take this precautionary step.
"On the advice of our experts, the National Blood Service will be obtaining frozen plasma from unpaid US donors and using single units rather than pooled plasma.
"This precaution is in addition to steps that have already been taken to minimise the theoretical risk of vCJD through blood and blood products.
"These include the removal of white blood cells, which evidence suggests may carry the greatest risk of transmitting vCJD, and the importation of plasma from the US for the production of blood products."
A DoH spokesman said the National Blood Service would be importing the product within the next nine to 12 months, following negotiations to guarantee supplies.
Plasma is the fluid in which the red and white blood cells and platelets are suspended and carried around the body. It contains clotting factors, antibodies, albumin and minerals.