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Reader question: Are Brits in Austria still banned from giving blood?

For many years since the 'mad cow' disease outbreak, some people from the United Kingdom have been banned from giving blood in Austria. What is the situation now?

Pictured is a birds eye view of someone giving blood.
Some British people in Austria are not allowed to donate blood. Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images/AFP.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, an outbreak of the so-called mad cow disease (BSE) in cattle in the UK sent ripples of concern around the globe. 

The disease then spread to humans – mostly by people eating contaminated beef – but there was also evidence that the disease could be transmitted from human to human via blood in rare cases. 

In the UK, the outbreak led to the culling of 4.4 million cows, bankruptcy for many cattle farmers and 177 UK deaths.

FOR MEMBERS: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

There was also a pervasive fear among the population that they may have contracted the human form of the disease, known scientifically as Variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD), and many people swore off eating beef products for years.

Internationally, it prompted governments around the world to impose a ban on some British citizens from giving blood in their countries, including many across Europe.

Austria was one of those countries and the rules are still in place today.

Here’s what you need to know.

What are the rules in Austria?

According to the Austrian Red Cross (which facilitates the majority of blood donations in the country), people who were in the UK for more than six months between 1980 and 1996 are banned from giving blood in Austria.

The same applies to anyone who had an operation or blood transfusion in the UK during that time.

The rules apply to British citizens and those of other nationalities who may have been impacted by the outbreak by living in the UK during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Today, it is believed that one in 2,000 people in the UK is a carrier of BSE, as reported by the BBC. Although in most cases people do not develop symptoms of the disease.

READ ALSO: Delays and high demand force Vienna to expand Covid vaccinations

Have there been any BSE cases in Austria?

Austria has a routine testing system to detect cases of BSE in cattle and stop the disease from entering humans.

By 2010, only seven cases of BSE had ever been reported in Austria, with all cases found early resulting in the culling of the infected cows.

However, since 2012, Austria has been classed as “negligible BSE risk” by the International Animal Health Organisation (OIE), and no cases have been reported for several years, according to AGES.

Can everyone in Austria donate blood?

In Austria, people between the ages of 18 and 70 who meet certain health and statutory criteria are allowed to donate blood, regardless of nationality.

Criteria includes first-time donors being under the age of 60, and all donors must weigh at least 50 kg.

Austria also recently reversed a long-standing ban on homosexuals giving blood.

“The discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation is finally a thing of the past”, Austrian Health Minister Johannes Rauch said in a statement in May 2022.

The federal government has already prepared a draft regulation changing the rules, which is expected to come into force in the coming months.

READ MORE: Austria to end blood donor discrimination based on sexual orientation

So far, homosexual and bisexual men, their partners and trans-persons in Austria were prevented from donating blood through a blank exclusion.

But in the future, only people who have had more than three sexual partners in the past three months (known as the “3 Mal 3-Regel”) will not be allowed to donate blood.

“Obviously, the highest safety standards for blood donation preservation are met”, Rauch added, saying that the donated blood will be tested regardless of who the donor is.

Is anyone else prevented from giving blood in Austria?

Aside from the ban on some British people, there are other groups who are prohibited from giving blood in Austria.

There is a temporary ban on people returning from countries affected with diseases such as dengue fever, Chagas, and Zika virus. This can last from four to six months.

For those who were born or spent more than six months in a place with a high risk for Malaria, there is a permanent ban on blood donations.

READ MORE: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

This includes countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, parts of China, the Dominican Republic, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Philippines, parts of South Africa, and several other countries.

There are also permanent exclusions for people with autoimmune diseases, such as Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and for those with HIV or Hepatitis.

Additionally, anyone wanting to give blood in Austria must be able to speak German. This is to ensure donors have fully understood the mandatory questionnaire and requirements, and to be able to have a conversation with a doctor about the process.

More information about donating blood in Austria can be found at the Austrian Red Cross website here.

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

Austria's capital city Vienna has begun registration appointments for those who want to get a monkeypox vaccine. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

As of September 9th, people can make reservations for monkeypox vaccination in Vienna, authorities announced. It is possible to register for the vaccine using the health service line by calling 1450 or via the Impfservice website.

The City of Vienna has said the pre-registration is needed because all planning will be done through a central system due to a shortage of vaccines.

“Please understand that due to the vaccine shortage, we cannot offer preventive monkeypox vaccination to everyone interested. We can use the reservation platform to quickly allocate available appointments and contact interested parties as soon as there are more vaccines”, the authorities said.

After the registration, people will be contacted to book appointments on September 14th. The first available date will be September 19th.

READ ALSO: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?

Who should be vaccinated against monkeypox?

Vaccination of the general population is currently not recommended.

Preventive vaccination is only offered to health care workers with a very high risk of exposure to people with monkeypox (designated monkeypox departments/outpatient clinics/offices) and persons with individual risk behaviour (persons with frequently changing sexual contacts), the City of Vienna said.

The health authorities in Vienna also have a specific information sheet in English with more information on the disease.

Monkeypox is a notifiable disease caused by a virus closely related to the smallpox virus and which can cause a condition similar to smallpox but rarely deadly. People with immunodeficiencies, pregnant women and children are at risk of more severe symptoms.

The virus spreads from person to person through contact with infectious skin lesions, via air droplets through speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other body fluids, and when having prolonged and close physical contact, e.g. through sexual intercourse.

READ ALSO: Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Usually, the first symptoms show up 5 to 14 days (at the latest, 21 days) after exposure. These include fever, general exhaustion, headaches, muscle and body aches, gastrointestinal problems and frequently painfully swollen lymph nodes.

“If you have symptoms and have had contact with someone with monkeypox, you must self-isolate at once and call 1450. If you have a confirmed monkeypox infection, you need to stay in self-isolation until the last crust has fallen off”, the Austrian authorities added.

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