New Blood Donation Restrictions

Thousands more people who have lived or traveled in Europe are barred from donating blood, as long-anticipated precautions against mad cow disease take effect. The Food and Drug Administration has already banned blood donations from people who spent at least six cumulative months in Britain between 1980 and 1996, the peak of that country's mad cow outbreak.

Tightened restrictions announced last year took effect Friday. Now barred are:

-donors who spent at least three cumulative months in Britain during that time.

-spent at least five cumulative years in France from 1980 to the present.

-spent six months or more as American military personnel or dependents on bases in northern Europe from 1980 to 1990 or southern Europe from 1980 to 1996, when British beef was sold to U.S. bases.

-received a blood transfusion in Britain since 1980.

This fall, FDA also will begin barring donors who spent a cumulative five years or more anywhere in Europe since 1980. Donors may find the rules confusing because the American Red Cross, which provides about half the nation's blood supply, has even tighter restrictions. Last fall, the Red Cross began refusing donors who spent three months in Britain or six months anywhere in Europe since 1980.

Non-Red Cross blood banks, which provide the other half of the nation's blood, will follow the new FDA restrictions, which the government termed enough of a precaution given lack of evidence the disease could spread through blood. Mad cow disease is a brain-destroying illness that first surfaced in British cattle but has spread to cattle in much of Europe. It has never been found in U.S. cattle. A human form apparently spread by eating infected beef has claimed more than 90 lives in Britain and parts of Europe. A British woman now living in Florida also has the disease.