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Ask the Doc: What are the New Rules for Blood Donations?

Image of U.S. Army Spc. Saif Al Bayati, a medic with the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, donates blood during the annual Armed Services Blood Program blood drive held at Caserma del Din, Vicenza, Italy, on Sept. 11, 2023. Sponsored by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza Red Cross, and USAG Italy, all blood donated to ASBP stays within the military and goes to forward-deployed throughout Europe and Africa, Special Forces, and patients in military hospitals or clinics. Learn how weigh in on new blood donation eligibility, what you can do if you can’t donate blood, and how your actions save lives. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alisha Grezlik). U.S. Army Spc. Saif Al Bayati, a medic with the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, donates blood during the annual Armed Services Blood Program blood drive held at Caserma del Din, Vicenza, Italy, on Sept. 11, 2023. Sponsored by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza Red Cross, and USAG Italy, all blood donated to ASBP stays within the military and goes to forward-deployed throughout Europe and Africa, Special Forces, and patients in military hospitals or clinics. Learn how weigh in on new blood donation eligibility, what you can do if you can’t donate blood, and how your actions save lives. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alisha Grezlik)

Dear Doc,

I really want to help my fellow service members and community by donating blood, but I’m confused about some of eligibility changes and how safe the donation procedure is. Also, if I can’t donate blood—what can I do to help the cause?

U.S. Marines Corps Pvt. 1st Class O. Positive

__________________________________________________________________________

Dear Private,

What a great attitude you have about donating blood. January is Blood Donor Awareness Month. There have been some eligibility changes recently, and there are definitely other ways you can help if you’re unable to or do not want to donate blood. I found two experts to weigh in on your questions: Rick Lumzy, the public affairs/donor recruitment branch chief of the Armed Services Blood Program Division, and former U.S. Navy Blood Program Director Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Hebert. Here’s what they had to say.

Lumzy: Every drop of blood you donate to the Armed Services Blood Program has the potential to help someone in need. Blood donations are crucial for our family members, retirees, and service members deployed globally. Your contribution directly supports those facing life-threatening conditions.

Donating blood is a safe and simple procedure, and our experienced staff is dedicated to making your experience comfortable.

Blood saves lives, and just a few minutes of your time can give years to another person. Whether at home or in combat, blood is needed to treat severe injuries and illnesses. At our hospitals, blood is used to make sure a mother and baby can survive complications during childbirth. In wartime, blood transfusions ensure our sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen can make it back home.

Our donors are screened using the same rules for blood collection that our civilian counterparts do, which ensures that our blood and blood products are safe and effective for patient care.

Donor Eligibility Changes

Lumzy: The Food and Drug Administration requirements (or eligibility) for blood donation change over time and are based on rigorous analysis of scientific data to inform blood safety initiatives. For example, many people in the past have been found ineligible to donate blood due to spending time living in Europe during the 1980’s and 1990’s. This was due to a concern that the outbreak of “mad cow disease” (known officially as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) in certain European countries could possibly affect the safety of the blood supply, and there was no way to test for it. However, blood donation in Europe did not stop, and after decades of studying and tracking, transmission of this disease by blood transfusion was impossibly rare. The FDA lifted the ban fully in 2022.As we are a worldwide military force, this has greatly increased the number of donors who qualify to donate blood.

Similarly, the individualized donor assessment was updated by the FDA due to a changed understanding of how blood safety is affected by personal behaviors. What matters most is the individual and whether or not they are engaged in behavior that can affect the safety of his blood. Every single blood donation is tested to ensure the donor is free of disease and as long as the donor engages in healthy lifestyle habits, the donation can be used to bring life to a person in need.

Hebert: Most healthy individuals over the age of 17 and weighing 110 pounds or more can donate blood. Weight, health history, and recent travel may affect your eligibility, so please check with your local ASBP blood donor center for more information. Your willingness to donate is vital, and we encourage you to review the eligibility criteria to ensure a smooth donation process.

If You Can’t Donate or You’re Deferred

Lumzy: Unfortunately, not everyone is eligible to donate blood. This can be a heartbreaking moment for someone who is motivated to do something for others. Being disqualified from donating is called a “deferral” and it can be temporary, indefinite, or permanent.

Temporary deferrals are usually based on travel history or physiological conditions such as low iron in the blood. These are the easiest type of deferral since the potential donor can come back at a later time or ask about donating a different blood product, such as plasma or platelets.

Indefinite and permanent deferrals exist to protect the safety of the blood supply, but it does not mean that there is something wrong with the donor. In these cases, the best thing to do is to find a different way to support the ASBP. You could do something as simple as finding a friend and motivating them to donate blood, volunteering to help at a blood drive, or even hosting your own blood drive.

Hebert: If donating blood isn’t possible at this time, we want you to know there are other meaningful ways to get involved. Your time and efforts are just as valuable. Consider volunteering with us—your dedication can create a lasting impact; help with refreshments, tell others about the blood drive, talk. We can also help you coordinate an ASBP blood drive in collaboration with your unit or community. Every effort counts, and together, we can make a significant difference.

Donating Blood Can Save Three Lives

Lumzy: When you donate a unit of blood, it is actually a mixture of different components: red blood cells that carry oxygen, platelets that fix ‘holes’ and are the first responders to injury, and plasma, which contains special proteins to help stop bleeding. We can either keep everything together to make a product called “whole blood,” or process the donation into separate components.

There are also some pretty cool technologies that allow our donor centers to collect one or two components of blood but not the others. In either case, these separate components of blood can be used to save three lives.

Hebert: Whether you have blood type A, B, AB, or O, your blood can make a difference. Your generosity can provide a lifeline for those in need. To schedule your ASBP donation appointment, find a nearby blood donation center.

__________________________________________________________________________

Private,

I hope these answers let you know you are highly valuable as a blood donor or equally in another role in a blood drive, and the rules for donating blood have become more flexible than they once were. Blood saves lives. You can save lives.

As always, take care out there.

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Last Updated: April 09, 2024
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