Dr. Louis Katz
Dr. Louis Katz (Quad-City Times file photo)

Blood donors with chronic fatigue syndrome may soon be asked to stop giving, at least temporarily, as researchers delve into whether the disease is caused by a virus that could be transmitted via transfusions.

The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center in Davenport could be among the first in the country to ask its donors with the syndrome to consider a self-imposed ban.

Dr. Louis Katz, executive vice president of medical affairs at the blood center and the Scott County Health Department’s medical director, is a member of a task force studying the issue. The task force was organized by AABB, an international association that includes virtually all the blood centers in the United States.

Katz said concerns that the virus XMRV, which at least one major medical study has linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, could be transmitted through blood transfusions merits a halt to donations from those affected.

“We think we can be precautionary without compromising the blood supply,” said Katz, who stressed he was speaking for himself and the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center and not the task force or AABB. “We are going to say, ‘Please lay off for now and give us your contact information so as this develops, we can reach you.’”

The XMRV virus appeared on the radar of blood center officials across the country last fall, when a paper published in the journal Science linked it to the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that chronic fatigue syndrome affects 1 million to 4 million Americans. Many sufferers are seriously impaired, and at least a quarter are unemployed or on disability because of the syndrome, according to the CDC.

Katz stressed that the research linking the XMRV virus to the syndrome is preliminary and still relatively controversial among medical researchers. But, he said, it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting the blood supply.

“Because of our experience with the emergence of HIV, we are very alert with developments regarding viruses and bacteria that pose even a theoretical concern of being transmitted via transfusion,” Katz said.

Katz was appointed to the AABB task force last fall because of his history and expertise in transfusion-transmitted infection issues.

Thus far, the Food and Drug Administration has not weighed in on the matter. The AABB can move faster than the FDA, however, and the organization could disallow anyone who has ever been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome from donating blood.

“A decision will be made very soon,” Katz said. “We have to be at least as restrictive as the FDA, but we can be more restrictive.”

Current blood supply numbers are good, and Katz said the loss of donors with chronic fatigue syndrome is not likely to have much effect.

“We think if we take precautions now, we can have more flexibility as the science develops,” he said. “We will not allow this to compromise the adequacy of the blood supply.”

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