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RAF MILDENHALL, England — Eighteen British military members and six contractors are having their blood checked for infections and diseases after receiving emergency war-zone transfusions that might not have been properly screened by U.S. officials, British authorities said Thursday.

The transfusions were performed at U.S. military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan at various times since 2001, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

While U.S. and U.K. policy is to use certified blood products in combat zones, donors are used in emergency situations or when there are supply shortages, according to an MOD release. Policy also dictates that these emergency samples be retrospectively tested to ensure they are clean.

“However, not all of the emergency collections had samples that made it back to the U.S. for retrospective testing,” according to a statement from Derek Twigg, the U.K. undersecretary of state for defence. “This is the key reason for offering testing to the recipients of these U.S. emergency blood collections.”

A couple of test results already have come back and are clean, according to Nick Manning, a MOD spokesman.

The last of the 18 British troops were informed of the possible contamination Wednesday and will be tested Monday, Manning said. It takes three weeks to get the tests back.

Manning said this was not a matter involving contaminated blood banks or stockpiled supplies.

“We’re not talking about a batch of blood,” Manning said. “We’re talking about people in situations where their conditions were so severe that they need to have a live infusion of blood from a donor right there, right now.”

The civilian cases are being handled by the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency, Manning said, adding that those cases were similar in circumstance to the military personnel involved.

Manning would only say that the 18 troops were serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. He would not specify how many came from each war zone, saying that the deployment location and level of injury necessitating this kind of transfusion would make it “relatively easy to work out who the individuals were.”

As a result of these incidents, Manning said, all British troops who receive emergency transfusions at non-U.K facilities will be retrospectively tested. The MOD was first alerted to the issue by a British medical liaison at the Pentagon.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said that emergency situations downrange require immediate action, and “are as safe as possible within the time available.”


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