Chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers cannot donate blood
by Nikki Abela Mercieca
Chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers are unable to donate blood as studies have raised the possibility that the condition may be linked to a virus.
“We have been deferring donors permanently if they have a history of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). The reason is not only due to the theoretical risk of viral transmission but also due to donor safety,” the medical director at the National Blood Transfusion Services, Alex Aquilina, said.
The health authorities started implementing such a policy earlier this year. Blood banks across the world are increasingly taking the same measures after new research reinforced a link between ME and the virus.
The condition, also known as post-viral fatigue syndrome, displays fatigue as its main symptom but also gives rise to a wide range of other symptoms, which leave patients suffering from different disabilities. The problem with ME, however, is that there is no test to diagnose it and symptoms can vary, which leaves doctors reluctant to diagnose it.
“If a person who recovered from ME gave blood and then developed a recurrence soon after, this could be blamed on the donation. Since it will not reduce the number of donations very much we felt it was wise to make this decision,” Dr Aquilina said, describing ME as a relapsing remitting condition. The measures were taken according to the precautionary principle of blood donation, he said.
“Donors have always been deferred if they do not feel perfectly well, including if they feel tired. Since the possibility of a viral involvement in ME, a permanent deferral has been put in place since early this year,” he said.
Although the cause of ME is not yet known, a 2009 study had linked a virus to the condition. Although the findings do not prove the virus causes ME, the scientists found evidence of a virus, otherwise known as XMRV, in a higher number of ME patients than in healthy blood donors.
Four follow-up studies did not find such association. However, another study published last month, which also did not find the same virus, but established similar gene sequences of XMRV in 87 per cent of ME patients and seven per cent of healthy blood donor controls. This has raised questions about the safety of blood donations in view of the link to the condition.
A number of national blood banks have discouraged or prohibited people diagnosed with ME from donating blood. These include the Canadian Blood Services, the New Zealand Blood Service, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service and the American Association of Blood Banks. In the UK, people with a history of ME will be permanently deferred from donating blood as from November 1.