Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and blood transfusion safety

Clive Seed, Patricia Hewitt, Roger Dodd, Eleanor Houston, Larisa Cervenakova

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are untreatable, fatal neurologic diseases affecting mammals. Human disease forms include sporadic, familial and acquired Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). While sporadic CJD (sCJD) has been recognized for near on 100 years, variant CJD (vCJD) was first reported in 1996 and is the result of food-borne transmission of the prion of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, ‘mad cow disease’). Currently, 230 vCJD cases have been reported in 12 countries, the majority in the UK (178) and France (27). Animal studies demonstrated highly efficient transmission of natural scrapie and experimental BSE by blood transfusion and fuelled concern that sCJD was potentially transfusion transmissible. No such case has been recorded and case–control evaluations and lookback studies indicate that, if transfusion transmission occurs at all, it is very rare. In contrast, four cases of apparent transfusion transmission of vCJD infectivity have been identified in the UK. Risk minimization strategies in response to the threat of vCJD include leucodepletion, geographically based donor deferrals and deferral of transfusion recipients. A sensitive and specific, high-throughput screening test would provide a potential path to mitigation but despite substantial effort no such test has yet appeared. The initial outbreak of vCJD appears to be over, but concern remains about subsequent waves of disease among those already infected. There is considerable uncertainty about the size of the infected population, and there will be at least a perception of some continuing risk to blood safety. Accordingly, at least some precautionary measures will remain in place and continued surveillance is necessary.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-231
JournalVox Sanguinis
Issue number3
Early online date22 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


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