From August 28, 2023, anyone wishing to donate blood at all Versiti blood centers and at blood drives will receive a tablet containing a new set of screening questions.
“Everyone is treated the same. The series of questions, regardless of your age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, will be the same for every donor who walks through the door,” said Amy Smith, regional vice president, Versiti Blood Center of Illinois. and Director of Donor Services Operations.
Versiti is implementing a change made by the FDA in May 2023. Instead of prohibiting gay and bisexual men from donating, the FDA is recommending an individual risk assessment for HIV and other blood-borne diseases.
“It’s not just homosexuals, but many other populations. And that’s what these individualized risk assessments are now embracing,” said Dr. Anu Hazra, adult infectious disease physician at UChicago Medicine.
“This is one of the most significant changes in the history of blood banking and blood donation,” said Joy Squier, spokesperson for the American Red Cross Illinois Region. .
The American Red Cross Blood Services implemented universal screening guidelines a few weeks ago in early August.
“It took a long time to come. The Red Cross provided extensive data to the FDA for the advanced study, which spanned several years and made this change possible,” Squier said.
The history of homosexual and bisexual men excluded from donation goes back many years.
“The first blood bans were the result of the AIDS panic in the 1980s. So that’s really the main reason why gay men and men who have sex with men aren’t allowed to donate blood,” Hazra said. “Over the past 40 years, we have really evolved our mechanisms for screening the blood supply for HIV as well as other bloodborne pathogens. »
The new screening questions ask everyone, regardless of gender, sex or sexual orientation, about their sexual history in the last three months. This applies to both males and females, which could make some heterosexuals who are not in monogamous relationships ineligible.
“When you come in and are asked these questions based on your sexual activity in the past three months, that might be different for you as well,” Smith said. “When you walk in, our staff have been trained to be there to help anyone with their questions. Do not hesitate to ask these questions. And I’m just asking everyone to be as inclusive as possible about this because it’s about the blood and the needs of the patients on the other end of what we’re here to do so that saving lives is great for everyone.
Overall, the new screening guidelines are expected to increase the donor pool and blood supply, traditionally low in late summer, and this year is no exception.
“It will be an uphill struggle on Labor Day, especially for our O negative and O positive donors. If you are eligible and can, or if you are a first-time donor, we invite everyone to come and help us ensure that this blood supply meets a healthy and healthy need,” Smith said.
Steven Galloway of Aurora is O negative. He has donated regularly for 30 years and welcomes changes to screening.
“The more the merrier, like I said, I have two kids who are paramedics and blood is always a need, so I’m proud to donate,” Galloway said.
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