18 members of the British armed forces injured whilst serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are currently having medical checks carried out on them after it became apparent that blood supplied to them had not been properly tested. The source of the blood used for the emergency transfusions was US troops.
These troops have not since been found to be affected by HIV or hepatitis.
However, according to the Ministry of Defence, complete "valid retrospective tests" - which would have assessed for the presence of these diseases - were not performed on the US soldiers in question. The ministry added that there was only a very minimal chance that an infection had been passed on, and that, in the absence of such transfusions, the British troops would not have survived.
UK Troop Tests Include for HIV, Hepatitis, Syphilis
In addition to HIV, the tests being carried out include for the following diseases:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- Chagas Disease
The service period for the 18 British troops extends back to 2001.
The MoD confirmed it was getting in touch with all of them, but also urged any other member of the military harbouring concerns about received blood to refer to a medical officer or GP.
It conceded that, in the case of the 18, retrospective tests were not carried out on the transfused blood.
BAFF Chairman: Retrospective Blood Tests Vital
Speaking to the BBC, the British Armed Forces Federation's Chairman, Douglas Young, highlighted how such analyses were paramount.
"If the necessary testing couldn't take place before the blood was given at all, then clearly there should have been what is called retrospective testing, where the donors or the blood batches are checked to ensure there are no issues involved," he stated.
"Because in some circumstances, if there is a problem, it's as well to know that quickly, because some kinds of treatment may be given that isn't possible a year or two years later."
Twigg: Blood Transfusion Saved British Troops from Death
Derek Twigg, the UK Defence Minister, stated that while the possibility of the 18 British troops having contracted an infection was low, the MoD was treating the issue with the utmost seriousness.
"These 18 service personnel would almost certainly have died without receiving an emergency blood transfusion at the front line", he stressed.
Mr Twigg continued: "We are working with the appropriate health authorities to do all that we can to test and reassure the people involved. We continue to do all that we can to support them and their families through this uncertain time."
US Defense Dept: No Time for Complete Blood Donor Screening
According to a spokesman for the US Department of Defense, the constraints of time was one factor precluding a complete screening of blood donors in an operational environment.
He said: "The UK and US co-operate closely in developing world-class, life-saving combat medical care and we'll continue to work closely together to monitor this situation as the recipients' test results are completed and further information becomes available."
The fact, he added, that hepatitis and HIV tests had since been performed on the US donors, with negative results across the board, meant that "the chance of infection in British troops is very low".
The British troops' test results, meanwhile, are expected to become known by the end of January.