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Common myths about blood donation

By The Health News Team | January 2, 2024
Blood donation myths

Local hospitals, including Sharp hospitals, rely every day on members of the community who give unselfishly of themselves through blood donation to help save the lives of others. Recently, the need for donations has become especially dire.

According to the San Diego Blood Bank, the community’s supply of Type O-negative and Type O-positive has hit critically low levels. Public health officials are issuing an urgent call for blood donations.

A chronic need for blood donations

One in seven people entering the hospital need blood or blood components. That blood is freely given by those who participate in their local blood drives. However, while nearly 40% of Americans are eligible to donate blood, the Red Cross reports only 3% do so, often because people think that they cannot donate for one reason or another.

If you were told in the past that you cannot donate, the requirements may have changed. It’s a good idea to try again — you may now be able to give. Five common myths about barriers to donating are busted below:

Myth 1: You can’t donate blood if you are on certain medications.

As long as you are healthy and meet all qualifications, medication should not prevent you from donating blood. However, there are a few medications that require a waiting period to donate.

These include:

  • Acne medications, such as isotretinoin, commonly known as Accutane (wait one month)

  • Blood thinners, such as Coumadin or Lovenox (wait seven days)

  • Propecia, a hair-loss medication (wait one month)

  • PrEP, used for HIV prevention (wait three months or two years if received by injection)

Other medications may require a waiting period of one day to two years or more. Check with your local blood bank about any medications you take or have taken to see if you are eligible to donate.

Myth 2: You can’t donate blood if you have certain medical conditions.

Well-managed health conditions, including diabetes, epilepsy, hypertension or asthma, will not interfere with blood donation. However, there are waiting periods for some conditions.

For example, all donors who have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having COVID-19, or who have symptoms shared with COVID-19, must wait 10 days from the date the symptoms resolved before donating. Additionally, donors who cared for, lived with or otherwise have had close contact with someone diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19 infection, must wait 10 days from the last date of exposure.

Individuals who have AIDS, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, hepatitis B or C, or are HIV-positive cannot donate blood.

Myth 3: You can’t donate blood if you have traveled or lived overseas.

Most international travel will not interfere with blood donation. And there is no longer a deferral, or period of time you must wait to donate, for travel in the U.K., Ireland and France from 1980 to present, which was previously considered a risk for possible exposure to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, associated with mad cow disease.

However, you may not be able to donate if you spent time in a country with malaria in the last year, including Mexico. If you have lived in Mexico for five years or more, you cannot donate blood unless you live in the U.S. with no travel to Mexico for three years. A donor specialist can help you make this determination.

Myth 4: You can’t donate blood if you got a tattoo or body piercing.

If you received your tattoo at a licensed shop in California and the tattoo has fully healed, there is no need to wait to donate blood. If your piercing was performed with sterile, single-use needles (common in all piercing shops), there is no need to wait.

Myth 5: You can’t donate blood if you identify as LGBTQ+.

In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration changed their policy on blood donation. Blood donor eligibility is now determined using questions based on individual activity instead of identity.

This update will help reduce the likelihood of transmitting HIV through blood transfusion and ensures that questions are consistent for every donor, regardless of their sexual orientation, sex or gender. The new approach will also eliminate time-based delays to donation eligibility for many.

According to the San Diego Blood Bank, donors will now be asked if they’ve had new or multiple sexual partners in the past three months and they’ve had anal sex with any of these partners. If they have, they will be required to wait three months from when they most recently had anal sex to donate. If they have not and meet all other eligibility criteria, they will be able to donate.

How you can donate blood

Refer to the San Diego Blood Bank website for more information on medication restrictions, waiting periods and other requirements for blood donation. It is likely that you will be able to donate if you’re 17 or older, in good general health and weigh at least 114 pounds.

The process to donate blood is quick and easy — and can help save a life. When you go to donate, a staff member will walk you through a series of questions to make sure you’re eligible; take your blood pressure, temperature and pulse; and take a blood sample to ensure your blood count is acceptable.

In San Diego, schedule an appointment to donate blood via the San Diego Blood Bank website or by calling 619-400-8251. Walk-ins are welcome.

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