Thursday, August 20, 2009


I'm in the middle of reading The Science of Fear, an interesting book about, well, fear and its effects on us and society as a whole. More about the book later, but I had a thought.

I used to donate blood all the time but no more. Back in the 90's I became ineligible. The reason was because I had lived in the United Kingdom--stationed there while in the Air Force--from 1983 to 1987. Anyone who lived there for more than six months after 1980 was ineligible. The rules have since changed and can review them here. Now it's three months of residence between 1980-1996.

The reason for my ineligibility is possible exposure to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) caused by consuming beef and beef products contaminated with the infectious agent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The media-inspired name was Mad Cow Disease. The United Kingdom had a problem back then and you can read about how many cases there have been in the first couple of paragraphs on this page.

Okay, I can't donate blood even though the number of cases peaked ten years ago in 1999 and dropped since then. There have been three cases in the US, two of whom had lived in the U.K. during the target period of 1980-1996. Two out of the thousands of military and civilian personnel and their respective families who lived in the U.K. during that seventeen-year period. So just how great is the risk?

On to a related topic. When I renew my driver's license, the state of Washington asks if I would like to be an organ donor. I didn't even think about my blood donor ineligibility so the little red heart next to the expiration date indicates I answered "Yes." Now that I am thinking about it, what makes you ineligible to be a tissue donor? You can find those rules here where one of the "relevant communicable disease agents or diseases" that makes you ineligible is:

Human transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE); including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)

So technically I can't be an organ donor either. I'm not sure it would help if the state asked about the eligibility factors beforehand. Some might consider that intrusive. But you can bet the hospital will ask. And once they find out they'll cancel the harvest team and kill the power to the life support machines. (Interestingly enough, they do call it harvesting the body.)

But back to my question. There have been two cases in the U.S. out of thousands of possibilities. How great of a risk are we actually facing here? Without hard numbers it's difficult to say for sure, but the numbers we do have hardly indicate--as least to me--that we need to continue this.

In the meantime, maybe I should wear a warning bracelet in case someone tries to steal a kidney.

1 comment:

Shan said...

Ugh! Our nation's fearfulness has hopefully peaked with the end of the previous administration. But it can be so hard to let go of once you've got it, don't you think?

On a semi-related note, my son started attending a traditional high school today (first time at a traditional school in three years). At no time was he given a handbook or list of rules and consequences. And there are signs of reasonably thinking adults everywhere on campus.

I'm not sure if it stems from living in what passes as a small town in southern California (just over 100 thousand, but we're in the middle of nowhere) or something else. Whatever the cause, it's refreshing.