FDA lifts lifetime blood donor ban on gay/bisexual men

Published: Dec. 30, 2015 at 11:45 AM CST
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A big change in our nation's blood supply: gay and bisexual men are no longer banned for life from donating blood.

Since 1983, the Food and Drug Administration has not allowed gay and bisexual men to become blood donors, because of concerns over HIV transmission through blood products.

In a decision announced just days ago, the FDA lifted the decades-long ban, as long as the male donor has abstained from sex with a male partner for 12 months. 

Kristi Morris is the center manager at LifeShare Blood Center in Lake Charles.  She says the donated blood at LifeShare is thoroughly screened, testing for type and several communicable diseases, including HIV.

"Blood is not released until we have absolutely concrete negative test results," she said.  "If there's anything in question, if it's a maybe or questionable, the blood is not used."

Morris says the ban that had been in effect for the past 32 years was meant to screen out the most at-risk donors.  

"We're not discriminating because of your sexual preference," she said.  "It's about activities that have proven to be high risk or a higher risk of contracting certain blood-borne diseases."

A statement from the FDA clarifies the reason for the new ruling: "No transmissions of HIV, hepatitis B virus, or hepatitis C virus have been documented through U.S.-licensed plasma derived products in the past two decades."  

The U.K. and Australia also have 12 month blood donation deferrals for gay and bisexual men.  Their research shows no change in risk with the blood supply.  

"We just have more data and the scientific research has been done and the proof is there," said Morris.

Morris says honesty during the screening process is paramount for every donor.

"We ask you about 50 health questions these days just to make sure that we're covering everything and we're keeping the blood supply safe," said Morris, "because our first function is to have a safe blood supply for our patients."

While the ban has been lifted, it could take several months for blood centers across the country to update their computer screening processes, train the workers, and implement the changes.  At LifeShare Blood Center in Lake Charles, those changes could be implemented as early as May.

"We're always looking to open those doors.  We're looking to be fair to everybody.  If you want to come in and help and save a life, we want to open that up to anybody who wants to do so," said Morris.

Although HIV blood tests have become much more precise, there is a window period of nine days when newly acquired HIV cannot be detected.  Even with the newest tests and current policies, the risk of a patient receiving an infected unit of blood is now 1 in 1.5 million.

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