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Who Can’t Donate Blood?

by Dr. Sharon Orrange on January 6, 2015 at 11:28 am

The goal of transfusion medicine is to reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted infection to as low a level as possible. The FDA made news last week by recommending a change in the policy for gay men and donating blood. So what items in your medical history may get you denied from donating blood in the United States? And what laboratory testing is done on donated blood prior to transfusion?

What will your blood be tested for?

You will be denied if your blood tests positive for: HIV-1, HIV-2, human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV)-I, HTLV-II, hepatitis C virus, hepatitis B virus, West Nile Virus (WNV), and T. pallidum (syphilis). Blood donation is actually a quick and easy way to get tested for all of these things.

You will be denied from donating blood if:

  • You have a fever at the time of donation, state that you do not feel well, or are taking antibiotics.
  • You may be denied if you have a history of injection drug use or a history of selected sexually transmitted diseases.
  • You have recent exposure to or a history of hepatitis, malaria, CJD (AKA Mad Cow Disease), babesiosis, and Chagas’ disease.
  • You have symptoms that may be compatible with HIV infection like persistent fevers, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, persistent cough or shortness of breath, persistent diarrhea or swollen lymph nodes.

You will also be denied if you say yes to these questions:

  • For men: Have you had sex with another man, even once since 1977? This is where the FDA is trying to make a change in early 2015—men who have sex with men but have not had sexual contact in 1 year would be able to donate. Celibate for a year to donate? Hmmm.
  • Have you ever injected intravenous drugs?
  • Have you engaged in sex in exchange for money or drugs since 1977?
  • Have you received clotting factor concentrates for hemophilia or other clotting disorders?

You will be turned away for a year if you have had sex with:

  • A person who has HIV infection or AIDS.
  • A prostitute.
  • A person who currently or previously used intravenous drugs.
  • For women: a man who has had sex with another man.
  • A person receiving clotting factor concentrates.

Ok, what else will make it so you can’t be a blood donor?

  • You have been treated in the past year for syphilis or gonorrhea, received a blood transfusion in the last 12 months, experienced an accidental needle stick injury or received a skin or bone graft or a tissue or organ transplant.
  • You have been an inmate at a correctional institution or been incarcerated for more than 72 consecutive hours during the previous 12 months.
  • You have a history of viral hepatitis after age 10.
  • You have ever tested positive for HBsAg (that’s hepatitis B).
  • You have a history of close contact with someone who has viral hepatitis.
  • There is a chance you may be denied if you got a tattoo or body piercing within the last 12 months or have traveled to a malaria endemic area in the last year.

Growth Hormone, Mad Cow and the U.K.

Lots of folks are denied around these reasons. If you received human pituitary derived growth hormone (because of the risk of Mad Cow Disease) you will be denied. Also because of the fear of Mad Cow Disease, you will be denied if:

  • You have spent 3 cumulative months in the UK from 1980 – 1996.
  • You have spent 5 cumulative years in Europe from 1980 – present.
  • For current or former US military personnel, civilian military employees and their dependents: you have lived for 6 months at US military bases in Northern Europe from 1980 – 1990m or elsewhere in Europe from 1980 – 1996.
  • You have received a blood transfusion in the UK or France between 1980 – present.
  • You have injected bovine insulin sourced from the UK.

For cancer survivors, if you have a history of a solid organ tumor in the last 1 – 5 years, you can’t donate blood.

What medications will prevent you from donating blood?


If you are 16 or younger you can’t donate. Sixteen year olds can donate with written permission from their parents if they are at least 110 pounds. Interestingly, there is no upper age limit for donating.

Dr O.

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