WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala has asked for a high-level investigation of how thousands of hemophiliacs got the AIDS virus from contaminated blood products a decade ago.
Hemophiliacs and their families have charged that companies knowingly distributed contaminated blood products in 1982-84 before a test was developed to screen blood for the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS.
Three lawmakers--Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.)--had asked Shalala to order an investigation by the department's inspector general.
Shalala replied that she has decided instead to ask that the project be undertaken by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
"I agree that it would be useful to gain a more complete understanding of the events that occurred in that period regarding the use of blood and blood products for transfusion and for treatment of those with hemophilia," Shalala wrote in a letter dated July 1. Graham's office released it Friday.
The lawmakers sought the review at the urging of a Florida couple, Louise and Clifford Ray, whose three hemophiliac sons contracted HIV from contaminated blood products. One son, Ricky, has died.
An estimated half of the nation's 20,000 hemophiliacs are HIV-infected and more than 2,700 have been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.
Hemophiliacs lack the proteins necessary for blood to clot. Injections of a product called clotting factor, made from the plasma of thousands of blood donors, can prevent hemophiliacs from bleeding to death from a minor cut.
But the blood used to make the clotting factor was not screened for HIV until 1985, four years after the AIDS epidemic began.