NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Restricting Questions Limit Blood Supply

July 3, 2003

Blood banks have long struggled to meet the high demand for blood, but they fear that a wave of new regulations that prohibit many categories of Americans from donating could result in major shortages that could be felt as soon as this Fourth of July weekend.

This year could be worse than usual, blood experts say, because people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and give blood are increasingly being turned away for safety reasons. Blood banks could face unprecedented shortages in the coming weeks and months, those experts fear.

As new diseases like SARS and West Nile emerge, posing potential threats to Americans and their blood supply, the number of screening tests performed on blood and the restrictions on donors have grown:

  • This week, blood labs will start using a new, experimental test to detect West Nile virus in donated blood.
  • They already test for HIV, a form of leukemia, hepatitis B and C and syphilis.
  • In addition, the list of questions about health, travel and sexual history that can disqualify donors has burgeoned to nearly 50, up from about 15 in the era before HIV.
  • Blood banks can't accept donations from people who lived in England for three months between 1980 and 1996 or in Europe for five years since 1980.
  • You can't give blood if you had a fever with headache in the last week, or if you just returned from Toronto, Taiwan or any other place affected by SARS.

Blood is and must remain safe, blood bank directors say, but they worry that an excess of caution will create serious shortages.

Source: Anita Manning, "Safety rules drain blood banks: As new diseases arise, the screening process grows, and more donors are turned away," USA Today, June 30, 2003.


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