Why can some people give blood and other people can't? Who is "banned" from giving blood, and why?
Donating blood is one of the easiest and greatest ways that you can make a difference in someone's life. It can make the difference between someone living or dying after being in an accident or during a medical procedure. We are constantly being asked to donate blood due to the shortage. However, there are entire groups of people who aren't allowed be blood donors. There are lots of reasons for those policies, but some of them don't make as much sense as others. Let's break it down...
There are some basic biological requirements that are necessary in order for your body to handle giving a pint of blood. Doctors have created a basic criteria that people need to weigh at least 110 pounds, be healthy, and be 17 years or older (some states allow 16 years old to donate with your parent's permission). In order for your body to replenish the blood loss, you must wait 56 days before you can donate again. If you pass these criteria there are some health issues that could be a problem on the day that you go to donate blood such as anemia, low/high blood pressure or cold/flu symptoms.
People living with diseases that are transmitted through blood, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C cannot donate blood. Everyone is asked a set of questions about behaviors that could put you at risk for HIV/AIDS, and you will not be able to donate if they think you are at risk for HIV/AIDS. Donated blood is tested for HIV/AIDS as a secondary precaution.
You can be denied from giving blood for other reasons besides your health. If you have traveled outside of the country to places where malaria is found, you must wait 1 year before you can donate blood. You must wait 3 years if you lived in one of these areas. Here's a link to a map of where malaria can be found: http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/map/
In some parts of the world, there is something called Mad Cow Disease, an infectious fatal brain disease - scientists believe that Mad Cow Disease is the same thing as variant Creutzfield-Jacob Disease (vCJD) with the possibility of transmission through blood, and so people cannot donate blood who have traveled/lived in a country during a time when there was vCJD. Here is a link to the specific restrictions due to vCJD country restrictions: http://www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood/eligibility-requirements/eligibility-criteria-alphabetical-listing#arc5
Finally, people who were born in or lived in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger and Nigeria since 1977 cannot donate blood due to possible exposure of a specific strain of HIV/AIDS.
If you are a man who has sex with other men, then you can never donate blood. This rejection of an entire group of people comes from the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, because of the possible risk of HIV/AIDS. There is no scientific or epidemiological reason for this ban, and many advocates have worked diligently for years to overturn it. However, there remains a skewed perception that a man who has sex with men is automatically at a higher risk level than other sexually active individuals. If you have read our blog on anal sex, you know that this sex act is an equal opportunity activity.
So, there it is. A breakdown of the restriction around blood donation. Some of it is for very specific physical reasons like anemia or low blood pressure. But because there are a few very serious disease that can be transmitted by blood there are lots of slightly odd or even outright homophobic restrictions in place. It is important to make sure that we make decisions from proven scientific research instead of fear and stigma, and we hope that some of these restrictions can be changed soon.