In the spirit of Krever Report, HÉMA-QUÉBEC takes further action concerning variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

SAINT-LAURENT, QUEBEC, August 31, 2000 - Donors who have spent a cumulative total of six months or more in France between 1980 and 1996 to be excluded.

In accordance with a directive issued by Health Canada (Bureau of Biologics and Radiopharmaceuticals), HÉMA-QUÉBEC has announced that it will exclude donors who have spent a cumulative total of six months or more in France, from 1980 up to and including 1996. This exclusion will be effective as of October 30, 2000. This measure is being implemented in order to reduce the theoretical risks of transmission of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), believed to be caused by exposure to "mad cow disease" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) which first appeared in the United Kingdom during the 1980s. To date, there is no scientific evidence to indicate that this disease is transmitted through blood.

In September 1999, HÉMA-QUÉBEC announced the exclusion of blood donors who have spent a cumulative total of one month or more in the United Kingdom since 1980.

"Although the risk of transmission through the blood supply is theoretical, the Krever Commission (Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada) recommended that such cases be dealt with as real infection risks and that appropriate action be taken. By implementing this precaution, HÉMA-QUÉBEC reduces this theoretical risk while retaining a sufficient number of donors to ensure that hospital patients continue to receive the blood products they require," explains André Roch, Senior Director, Operations at HÉMA-QUÉBEC. "We are aware that the number of donors in Quebec who have visited France is greater than the number of donors who have visited the United Kingdom, where the disease was first detected."

This measure is expected to reduce the number of donors by no more than 3 %. A 1999 survey of donors' travel habits showed that around 3 % had spent a cumulative total of six months or more in France between 1980 and 1996.

HÉMA-QUÉBEC has concluded that it can continue to serve hospitals adequately with 3 % fewer donors. HÉMA-QUÉBEC has been able to absorb a 3 % to 5 % reduction in the number of active donors resulting from earlier precautionary donor exclusion measures.

New cases in France
New cases of vCJD have appeared in France, bringing the number of reported cases in that country to two confirmed cases and one probable case. These French residents had not visited the United Kingdom. The current working assumption is that so-called "mad cow disease" is transmitted to humans as a result of eating contaminated beef. We now know that between 5 % and 10 % of the beef consumed in France from 1980 to 1996 came from the United Kingdom, hence the decision to exclude donors who have spent a cumulative total of six months or more in France. France stopped beef importation from United Kingdom in 1996.

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, generally described as a prion (infectious protein) disease, is a degenerative brain disorder and is always fatal. HÉMA-QUÉBEC will continue to monitor scientific research in order to respond quickly to any new findings concerning the disease and its transmissibility.

HÉMA-QUÉBEC thanks all blood donors for their understanding. The safety of the blood supply shall continue to be its number-one priority.

HÉMA-QUÉBEC's mission is to provide Quebeckers with sufficient quantities of safe, top-quality blood components, derivatives and substitutes to meet the needs of hospitals, and to provide recognized expertise and specialized services in the field of immunohematology.

-30-