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A young man donates blood (image via Depositphotos)

Red Cross Asks FDA To Lower Blood Donation Restrictions For Gay/Bi Men

A young man donates blood (image via Depositphotos)

The American Red Cross has issued a statement urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce the restrictions for gay and bisexual men to give blood.

The Red Cross is asking the FDA to “consider reducing its deferral time for men who have sex with men (MSM) from twelve to three months.”

Currently, gay and bisexual men are prohibited from donating blood if they have had sexual contact with another man within the past 12 months. That policy, begun in December 2015, replaced a decades-old regulation banning MSM and transgender women from donating blood at all.

The Red Cross calls its suggested revision of current policy a “scientifically-based interim step” while further options are evaluated. The statement notes a 3-month policy would be consistent with other leading countries like Great Britain and Canada.

The health organization also recommends “expanded use of new technologies to work toward the elimination of donor eligibility questions that would no longer be necessary.”

Underscoring a commitment to “ensure that every blood recipient receives safe, lifesaving blood,” the statement declares that donating blood “should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation.”

“We are committed to working toward achieving this goal,” adds the Red Cross.

In a statement to NewNowNext, the FDA characterized the current 12-month ban as “a behavior-based policy, not one based upon sexual orientation.”

The FDA’s statement goes on to note that the 2015 policy change was prompted, in part, by reviewing studies in blood donors which “showed that a history of male-to-male sexual contact was associated with a 62-fold increased risk for being HIV positive, whereas the increase in risk for a history of multiple sexual partners of the opposite sex in the last year was 2.3-fold.”

The FDA added, “While acknowledging at the time that the change to a 12-month deferral was less than hoped for by some, the FDA considered this to be a first step in the process of evaluating and progressing its blood donor deferral policies for all donors.”

I’ve been asked in the past what would happen if a gay man who is undetectable were to donate blood?

I’m not a doctor, but some thoughts:

The first thing that comes to mind is when you donate you’re asked if you’ve had sex with a man in the past 12 months. If you say yes, they won’t let you donate.

If you fib, the blood will be tested and could be found to have HIV antibodies. You might be contacted by health officials to inquire if you were aware you’re positive.

“Undetectable” is generally defined as less than 40 copies per ml, while under 200 copies per ml is considered “viral suppression.”

According to the CDC, “a person with HIV who takes HIV medicine as prescribed and gets and stays virally suppressed or undetectable can stay healthy and has effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to HIV-negative partners.”

During sex, only small amounts of blood and semen are exchanged which is why U=U.

But in blood transfusions, a lot of blood is being transferred. So I would imagine it’s possible some amount of virus – however tiny –  could be transferred.

The issue I have with the FDA’s blood policy is sexually active HIV-negative gay men can’t donate, but a woman who might have unprotected sex with several partners can.

It’s about the stigma attached that the current policy furthers.

Plus, all donated blood is tested for a multitude of possible issues. So, I don’t see why a sexually active gay man who is HIV negative couldn’t be allowed to donate.

For more information about the current blood donation policy in the U.S., check out this Q&A on the FDA’s official site.

(source: Red Cross, NewNowNext)