Parliamentary Questions: UK blood banks and XMRV

The Minister for Public Health, Anne Milton, has responded to related questions from two MPs about what the Department of Health plans to do with blood from people with ME that is held in storage or whether he has any plans to screen blood already held in storage for the XMRV virus.

David Anderson (Labour MP for Blaydon)) asked if the DEpartment of Health would be screening blood held in blood banks for the XMRV virus. And Sharon Hodgson (Labour, Washington and Sunderland West) asked whether the Department would be removing from storage blood donated by people with ME.

In her written answer on 20 October 2010, the Minister replied.

There are no plans to screen blood already stored in blood banks for the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) or to remove from storage blood donated by persons diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis.

A recent study in the United States (of America) reported that XMRV has been detected in a number of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)/myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) sufferers. CFS/ME sufferers can currently give blood when they are well. These data have not been replicated in Europe.

An expert subgroup of National Expert Panel for New and Emerging Infections (NEPNEI) met in May 2010, to consider all available evidence about XMRV and conduct a risk assessment. The subgroup concluded that XMRV can infect humans but there is currently no evidence that it causes human disease and that on the evidence before the group, no public health action is required at this time. Since the subgroup meeting in May there has been no new scientific evidence that would change the conclusions of the subgroup. In July 2010, the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO), similarly did not recommend further measures at present. Both groups will continue to monitor the situation.

However, from 1 November 2010, CFS/ME sufferers will no longer be able to donate blood. The UK Blood Services recognised that exclusion from donation by people with ME/CFS needed to be brought in line with that from other relapsing conditions for the protection of the donor, and not because of potential infection risks.