“Your Blood is Not Wanted Here” — Again. Why?

id you know that if you travel to certain places — or have been in certain places for a defined period of time — you will be denied the opportunity to donate whole blood, platelets, red blood cells and other blood components in the United States?

As I first mentioned in this article back on Friday, March 15, 2013, I have known this for years. I have donated platelets greater than 150 times, as well as a couple of gallons of whole blood and a number of double donations of red blood cells. I traveled to Panama several years ago and I was not allowed to give blood or platelets for twelve months because I was informed by a representative of the American Red Cross that Panama was one of the countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an area where malaria is present everywhere. Because blood is not tested for malaria, any person who has traveled to an area known to have malaria present is considered a risk — even if the person may not be suffering from the effects of malaria — and will therefore be denied the opportunity to donate blood for twelve months.

Well, the good news is that Panama is now one of those countries where the presence of malaria varies; so that means that depending on where you have been in Panama determines whether or not you can donate blood or any of its components.

The bad news is that I was about to donate another double of donation of red blood cells earlier today; but because I had traveled on my unintentional trip around the world recently — no, I have not nearly finished posting all of my trip reports as of yet but I intend to do so — I decided to call the American Red Cross and ask first before venturing out…

…and because I had ventured north of Seoul for a few hours to get to the demilitarized zone — yes, I intend to write a trip report on it complete with photographs — I was told that I cannot donate my blood or any of its components for a full year…

…and I have some upcoming travel that will most likely extend that period of time where I cannot donate blood. I intend to give more details on my upcoming travel when my schedule becomes clearer and definitive.

In the meantime, the map shown above is the 2014 version of the malaria map provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are some subtle differences from the malaria map of 2013, which is shown below:

Areas in red are known to have malaria everywhere. Areas in yellow are where the presence of malaria varies. Areas in green have no known existence of malaria. Map courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Click on the map above to access the malaria map application of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To complicate the frustration of travelers who want to donate blood or blood components, the list of countries can change. Ensure that you click on the map above to see its latest iteration before you travel to determine if you will be eligible to donate blood and blood components when you return…

…but even then, I would advise calling the American Red Cross — or wherever you donate your blood or its components — to ensure that you get information specific to you and your travels as to whether or not you can donate.

There are other factors which may disqualify you from donating blood and blood components, according to the eligibility requirements of the American Red Cross — however, we will discuss the ones here which are mostly related to travel.

You are not eligible to donate blood if from January 1, 1980 through December 31, 1996, you spent — meaning visited or lived — a cumulative time of three months or more, in the United Kingdom; or from January 1, 1980 to present, you had a blood transfusion in France or any one or more of the following countries in the United Kingdom, including:

  • Channel Islands
  • England
  • Falkland Islands
  • Gibraltar
  • Isle of Man
  • Northern Ireland
  • Scotland
  • Wales

 

You are not eligible to donate blood if you were a member of the United States military, a civilian military employee, or a dependent of a member of the United States military who spent a total time of six months on or associated with a military base in any of the following areas during the specified time frames

  • From 1980 through 1990 — Belgium, the Netherlands or Holland, or Germany
  • From 1980 through 1996 — Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy or Greece.

 

You are not eligible to donate blood if you spent — meaning visited or lived — a cumulative time of five years or more from January 1, 1980 to present, in any combination of the following countries in Europe, including:

  • The United Kingdom from 1980 through 1996 as listed above
  • On or associated with military bases as described above, and
  • In other countries in Europe as listed below:
    • Albania
    • Austria
    • Belgium
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina
    • Bulgaria
    • Croatia
    • Czech Republic
    • Denmark
    • Finland
    • France
    • Germany
    • Greece
    • Hungary
    • Republic of Ireland
    • Italy
    • Kosovo, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
    • Liechtenstein
    • Luxembourg
    • Macedonia
    • Montenegro, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
    • Netherlands, also known as Holland
    • Norway
    • Poland
    • Portugal
    • Romania
    • Serbia, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
    • Slovak Republic, also known as Slovakia
    • Slovenia
    • Spain
    • Sweden
    • Switzerland
    • Turkey
    • The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia

 

Sexual orientation can also preclude your eligibility of being able to donate blood in the United States — but health officials in Great Britain reportedly lifted a ban on gay men donating blood, as long as their last sexual contact with another man was more than a year earlier.

However — according to this article written by Sabrina Tavernise for The New York Times — an announcement from the Food and Drug Administration of the United States released on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 that in a reversal of a decision which is decades old, restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood which were put into place during the height of the AIDS epidemic will be eased, allowing some gay and bisexual men to be able to donate blood one year after their last sexual contact with another man.

By the way, I am not related to I. Glenn Cohen — a law professor at Harvard University who specializes in bioethics and health — who was mentioned in the article.

FlyerTalk members are proud to donate blood and blood components — many on a regular basis, and especially when blood supply levels are low — even without an incentive, such as receiving 500 AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program miles offered by American Airlines simply for donating blood back in 1999.

Although it should not be necessary, it would be nice to see similar incentives offered by frequent travel loyalty programs to help increase the supply of blood and blood components for those who need them.

I personally prefer donating platelets because I can do so every two weeks — up to a maximum of 24 times per year — as several recipients can benefit from one apheresis donation. It may take a couple of hours of my time, but I can choose to listen to music, watch a movie or get some work done — and I get to drink juice and eat cookies afterwards! Yay! How can anyone not want cookies?!?

More importantly — unlike money or material possessions — donating platelets and blood is the most personal way of literally giving of yourself to a person in need. To be able to save the life of someone somewhere who needs it is quite rewarding for me. I truly believe that alone is worth two hours of my time.

If your beliefs are similar, I strongly encourage you to please donate either whole blood or blood components — but before you do, please be sure to read this discussion on FlyerTalk first pertaining to experiencing any side effects to donating blood. I do not suffer from side effects when I donate — but you might, and I would like for you to be safe and healthy if and when you decide to save the life of someone in need.

Sadly — if there was any disadvantage to extensive travel — it is that you might eventually be in a location considered too risky for donating blood or its components…

2 thoughts on ““Your Blood is Not Wanted Here” — Again. Why?”

  1. Mary says:

    I was ok ed to donate plasma, moved down to a not her city where the same company different doctors, I was denied, then after the put me on the banned list they told me if I has lied… IF I HAD LIED, about my 2 years in germany I would be still be donating….let me get this straight, liars are encouraged?…what sucks is it was needed income as well as my way to do good, the red cross has a list I am on..so I can not undo it, 23 fricking years later I still can’t donate, no test for ot, no known symptoms nothing…really…

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      From what I understand, Mary, the American Red Cross follows the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control; and when those guidelines change for whatever reason, the American Red Cross follows.

      I forget specifically which questions pertaining to travel changed; but I remember asking myself “Okay — so what is the difference between now and last month?!?” I think it was the question related to whether or not I have ever been to Africa.

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