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No one has done a calculation of how many people are still eligible to give blood in this country, but the list is getting shorter all the time, says Prof. Ruth Gabizon, a biochemist at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Kerem in Jerusalem and one of the country's experts on brain diseases. These include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, which is better known by its nickname, mad cow disease) and its human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

Only three people in the UK are believed to have contracted CJD through a blood transfusion, she notes. "Transmissible diseases are not like infectious ones. They are very hard to contract," she says. "The big question that no one can answer is more of an ethical one than a medical one: What kind of risk are we prepared to take?

"If we go outside, we know we could be killed by a car, but we take the risk anyway. But when it comes to blood, we want to take away risk entirely. The people deciding whose blood you are getting have no way of calculating the risk [of disease transmission] - whether it's 0.1 or 0.0001 - but we want zero risk or as close as possible and that's why it was decided not to take blood from people who were in the U.K. [The risk of transmission] sounds far-fetched, but it all comes down to where you draw the line."

Gabizon adds: "Once you enter the list of those banned from blood donations, it is very hard to return. What if someone in five years gets [CJD] and it could possibly have come fro m a transfusion? It's a change that would have to be made internationally; it cannot be done only in Israel."