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U.S. News

Washington: Blood Bank Bias Alleged Against Gay, Bisexual Men

January 24, 2008

Given last week's warning from the Puget Sound Blood Service that western Washington's blood supply has fallen to emergency levels, some people are expressing frustration at regulations that ban donations by gay and bisexual men.

Potential donors are placed on deferral lists based on their answers to screening questions. Men who report sex with another man since 1977, even once, are disqualified. Would-be donors can also be excluded if they have paid for sex, injected non-prescription drugs, lived in West Africa, or spent five years in Europe. The exclusions block about 6 percent of those who seek to donate blood.

"It frustrates me that I'm a universal donor [type O negative blood], and I can't give," said Kyros Starr, a former emergency medical technician and the son of a nurse. "They think we're disease carriers." Another man, who said he was excluded because he had sex with a man one time, commented, "It upsets me when I see signs that say, 'We need blood, give now,' but they don't want my blood."

The Food and Drug Administration, which crafted the screening questions and requires blood centers to maintain deferral lists, has since 1983 banned donations by those reporting male-male sex. While all donated blood is screened for HIV, the test can fail to detect the virus in the blood of persons who have not yet generated sufficient antibodies. FDA says this window period poses "a small but definite increased risk to people who receive blood transfusions if the policy were changed."

Despite improvements in testing technology and the increased prevalence of HIV among heterosexuals, the agency evaluated and reaffirmed the policy in May 2007.

Back to other news for January 2008

Adapted from:
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
01.23.2008; Ambreen Ali

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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