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Chronic Fatigue Patients Should Be Barred From Giving Blood, Panel Says

Americans with chronic fatigue syndrome may be barred from donating blood because of concern that the disease is linked to a virus found in prostate cancer.

Outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted 9-4 yesterday in Gaithersburg, Maryland, that scientific evidence supports asking prospective donors whether they have chronic fatigue as a basis for preventing donations, Shelly Burgess, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an e-mail. The FDA has the authority to ban certain blood donors, as it has with gay men, and usually follows its panels’ recommendations.

The Washington-based American Red Cross, the largest U.S. supplier of blood products, announced Dec. 3 that it would no longer allow donors diagnosed with the condition after studies found a virus called XMRV may be linked to chronic fatigue syndrome. The FDA can set policy for other organizations that accept blood, including hospitals.

“This is just establishing that we have scientific data that supports asking,” Burgess said today, adding that the agency hasn’t laid out a timeline for further action. “The consensus was we need more studies.”

The U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand have decided to defer blood donations from people with chronic fatigue syndrome, according to the FDA. The policies are based on donors volunteering their medical history; there’s no specific question about chronic fatigue syndrome during screening.

Exhaustion, Joint Pain

Chronic fatigue syndrome affects more than 1 million Americans, mainly women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The illness, marked by exhaustion, joint and muscle pain, lacks a widely accepted cure or approved treatments.

Almost 90 percent of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome showed signs a virus related to XMRV in a study released in August. XMRV was found in two-thirds of chronic fatigue patients and 3.7 percent of healthy people in a trial reported in October 2009. CDC researchers failed to find a viral link to the illness in a study released in July 2009.

XMRV was first identified in 2006 in tissue specimens from men with prostate cancer, according to the CDC. While XMRV hasn’t been shown to spread through blood transfusions, the FDA says it’s theoretically possible since the virus has been detected in blood cells.

The AABB, formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks, recommended in June that blood-collecting organizations actively discourage potential donors diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome until more definitive data are available.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rob Waters in San Francisco at rwaters5@bloomberg.net; Catherine Larkin in Washington at clarkin4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

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