The Spanish Red Cross said yesterday it would stop using blood donated by former residents of Britain until it was proved to be free of the human variant of mad cow disease. The move came after the American Red Cross this week imposed new restrictions on blood donations because of mounting concerns in Europe about BSE or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the fatal human variant of which has no known cure. “We will exclude these donations until more reliable facts are available or there is scientific evidence to show whether BSE can be transmitted through the bloodstream,” Carmen Martin, head of the Red Cross health department, told state radio. The ban would apply to people who lived for at least six months between 1980 and 1996 in Britain, the country most affected by BSE to date. However, Spain's Health Ministry rejected any link and said it would not filter out blood from former British residents. “If evidence emerges to suggest a relation (between transmissions and new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or vCJD) we will take the necessary steps,” a ministry spokeswoman said. Some scientists fear that vCJD - thought to be caused by eating tainted beef - may be passed via blood transfusions. Spain has no reported cases of vCJD. More than 80 people are believed to have died from the disease, mostly in Britain. Spain has confirmed five BSE cases since November, all in the northwestern regions of Galicia and Castille-Leon. Four other cases are suspected, the latest surfacing on Thursday. Those cases have yet to be confirmed. Agriculture Minister Miguel Arias Canete said on Thursday that Spain would slaughter 180'000 cattle over the next six months but farmers' groups say the country lacks capacity to swiftly dispose of the animals.

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