The Orion

Donations create terror of tainted transfusions

Megan Mann

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Last semester, I was at a dinner hosted by the Central California Hemophilia Foundation and I met a very sweet man who has Von Willebrand Disease, just like me.

Unfortunately, he is also HIV positive because he received a transfusion with tainted blood back in the 1980s.

So when people tell me that it’s discriminatory to not allow gay men to donate blood because they are a high risk factor for contracting HIV, I get a little defensive.

Here are the facts:

  • Homosexual or bisexual males are the highest-affected demographic for HIV infections, and many are unaware that they have it.

  • Rapid testing for HIV sacrifices accuracy and early detection for faster results, unlike an anemia test which only requires a finger prick and takes minutes to get an accurate result.

  • The American Cancer Society warns patients with compromised immune systems of the risks of a transfusion. However, infection is not listed as a large risk because “careful testing and donor screening” has helped to almost eliminate that risk.

  • Donor screening consists of carefully reviewing a potential donor’s medical history (including allergies, shot records and any current medications), whether or not they have had a tattoo or piercing in the last year, and yes, whether or not they are in the high risk group for HIV infections (in this case, homosexual males).

Based on these facts, sexually active gay men should not be allowed to donate blood.

Now I’ll be the first one to admit this isn’t the 1980s anymore. The medical world knows what HIV is and there are new advancements every day toward a treatment and possibly a cure.

That’s probably why people try to tell me that the “every gay man has HIV or AIDS” idea is old-fashioned and outdated. And that’s true. But that’s not what’s going on here.

Medicine just isn’t that far advanced yet to where testing for HIV is 100 percent accurate or fast enough for one to be tested 20 minutes before hopping in the donation chair. And why should donation companies waste their resources to do extensive testing on blood when there’s such a high chance they can’t use it anyways?

Look, I get it. It is discriminatory to exclude a whole demographic from donating blood, but when the risk for HIV is so high for sexually active gay men and accurate-as-possible testing takes at least three weeks to be processed, I just don’t see how this should be an issue.

When it is as easy and accurate to test for HIV as it is for anemia, by all means, everybody donate. I’ll celebrate with everyone because it’ll be a huge win for gay men, people who need blood and people who give blood.

But If it’s not medically possible right now, then it’s not medically possible right now.

Maybe it’s just easy to pull the discrimination card when you’re the person who’s being told they can’t donate or it’s a close friend or family member who gets turned away.

But take it from my point of view. I’ve already got a heart condition and a knee problem. The two are guaranteed life sentences.

I sure as hell don’t need anything else, especially if I get it from a transfusion that is supposed to save my life.

Call it harsh, but I’m part of just one of the communities that is directly affected by the results of this “discrimination,” and right now, I don’t hold many sympathies.

Megan Mann can be reached at [email protected] or @meganisthemann on Twitter.

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Donations create terror of tainted transfusions