Who Should Be Allowed to Donate Blood?


On the top of the pre-Delta variant COVID-19 pandemic, Stephen Rawlings, MD, PhD, was doing HIV and SARS-CoV-2 analysis when a pair of males, a pair, got here to him. Each of them had had COVID-19. Each needed to donate convalescent plasma or in any other case contribute to stopping the virus. Rawlings needed to inform them no.

For Rawlings and his principal investigator (PI), it was a weird second.

“Right here the PI was a homosexual man, I used to be a homosexual man, and there have been these two males – and all of us couldn’t donate,” Rawlings stated. “However we had been nonetheless, in our personal approach, forging higher science.”

On this case, the would-be volunteers had been capable of contribute antibodies, not entire blood – that’s, blood that hasn’t but been divided into its element components, equivalent to platelets and plasma. That’s as a result of because the early HIV epidemic, homosexual, bisexual, and different males who’ve intercourse with males (MSM) couldn’t donate entire blood. At first, it was ever, even when they’d had intercourse with one man in 1978 and by no means once more. In 2018, the U.S. Meals and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed homosexual males to present blood in the event that they’d been abstinent for 12 months. After which, in 2020, contemplating the COVID-19 pandemic’s affect on the blood provide, the FDA modified the coverage once more to cut back the abstinence interval to three months.

Many, together with officers on the White Home, have not too long ago argued that the present blood donation coverage is old-fashioned and unscientific. However what would possibly a extra science-based blood donation coverage appear to be?

What we name the U.S. blood donation coverage is definitely an amalgam of standards that folks should meet earlier than they’re allowed to donate. It contains all the things from medical and prescription histories to a slew of questions on current conduct. These embrace questions on having had sexually transmitted illnesses, nonprescription injection drug use, and up to date tattoos, amongst others. As well as, males additionally should not have had intercourse with one other man within the final 3 months, and ladies should not have had intercourse with a person who’s had intercourse with one other man within the final 3 months. As soon as an individual will get by way of all these hurdles, employees at blood facilities like Affect Life, which offers blood to a number of dozen hospitals within the U.S., will examine an individual’s arms for needle tracks.

Discovering none, the customer “lays down and bleeds,” stated Louis Katz, MD, performing chief medical director for Affect Life. Blood vials then go down the corridor, the place they endure blood typing and testing for all the things from cytomegalovirus to West Nile virus to Zika to hepatitis B and C.

After which, after all, there’s HIV, “the poster-child an infection that we fear about,” stated international blood advisor Jeffrey McCullough, MD, professor emeritus of laboratory drugs and pathology on the College of Minnesota Medical Faculty.

Whereas all blood can now be screened, McCullough stated that blood banks favor to begin with a clear pattern fairly than take away issues later within the course of.

“We need to begin with the highest-quality product,” he stated. And whereas seven HIV checks can be found now to check the blood provide, together with PCR, antigen, antibody, and nucleic acid checks, checks are by no means 100% correct, stated McCullough. The query of how clear is clear sufficient is the center of the problem: Is a protracted abstinence interval actually required, or is there a greater, extra scientific method to lower down on threat?

McCullough stated that the present blood provide is the most secure it is ever been – even with the now 3-month deferral in homosexual and bisexual males giving blood. And Katz stated that getting HIV by way of the blood provide is so uncommon that scientists should estimate it utilizing fashions.

As HIV testing and therapy have developed over time, these fashions present that the danger of HIV making it into the blood provide has additionally dropped, stated Brian Custer, PhD, director of epidemiology and coverage science on the Vitalant Analysis Institute. In 1986, fashions instructed that one unit of blood in 22,000 would possibly include HIV. Extra not too long ago, these fashions estimate the danger of HIV making it into the blood provide at 1 in 1.5 million to three million.

However the U.S. blood donation coverage is stuffed with contradictions, stated Jeff Crowley, former director of the White Home Workplace of Nationwide AIDS Coverage. Crowley, now a professor at Georgetown College Regulation Faculty, describes these because the “hypocrisies” within the present system.

“In heterosexuals, we tolerate a excessive stage of threat and it’s virtually like zero tolerance with homosexual males,” he stated of the unique lifetime deferral coverage. “Should you had been a heterosexual man who had condomless intercourse with a intercourse employee, you would possibly get deferred for six months. Nevertheless it was a lifetime deferral for homosexual males. It simply doesn’t make any sense if you happen to’re making an attempt to guard individuals.”

So what protects the utmost variety of individuals most effectively, with the least threat and least quantity of discrimination? Right here’s what science says.

In response to CDC information, receptive condomless anal intercourse carries the very best threat of HIV transmission, adopted by being the insertive accomplice in condomless anal intercourse. Then receptive companions in vaginal intercourse have the following highest threat. The bottom threat is for 2 girls having non-insertive intercourse. And whereas homosexual males are probably to have receptive anal intercourse, they aren’t the one ones who do. A 2020 modeling research within the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology instructed that 41% of latest HIV diagnoses in American girls had been the results of condomless anal intercourse. There’s additionally some information that recommend that, for unknown causes, cisgender girls’s rectal lining could also be more vulnerable to HIV than males’s.

And homosexual males aren’t the one individuals who get HIV. As an illustration, almost 1 in 4 new HIV transmissions within the U.S. occurred in heterosexual adults in 2019. Individuals who inject medicine made up 7% of latest diagnoses, in response to the CDC. Proper now, the FDA isn’t learning deferral insurance policies for heterosexuals at greater threat of HIV, although, stated Custer.

Blood facilities do defer individuals from donating blood if they’ve a historical past within the final 3 months of intercourse work or injecting medicine, nonetheless.

A extra science-based method could also be to ask everybody about their sexual conduct. However that’s not what the Assessing Donor Variability And New Ideas in Eligibility (ADVANCE) research is doing. Designed and funded by the FDA, the research is contemplating different choices for the way to decide when homosexual and bisexual males may give blood. The research asks homosexual and bisexual males questions on their sexual conduct, equivalent to what number of companions males have had not too long ago and in the event that they use condoms or HIV prevention drugs, often known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), stated Custer. The research gained’t be testing these questions amongst heterosexuals.

“These are the questions which may at some point be on a future blood donor historical past questionnaire,” stated Custer. “A up to date, science-based method to coverage is strictly what we’re making an attempt to do.”

Again when the ban on homosexual males donating blood got here out, there have been no checks for HIV. A ban was a blunt instrument. Nevertheless it has lengthy since been changed by correct HIV checks, stated Katz.

“By the late Nineties, we had nucleic acid checks – PCR, principally – that would detect HIV inside 7 to 10 days,” he stated.

And that ought to imply, Rawlings stated, {that a} homosexual man in a mutually monogamous relationship for the final 10 years the place neither accomplice has HIV ought to have the ability to donate the identical as anybody else. “I’m pretty assured that monogamous homosexual males will be proven to be protected” donating blood, stated Katz.

Rawlings is himself one such man.

“If I’d had a brand new intercourse accomplice and it was unprotected and within the final 7 days, I mustn’t give blood,” he stated. “Present coverage doesn’t account for that.”

There is perhaps one glitch in that suggestion, stated Custer, of the Vitalant Analysis Institute: HIV transmissions whereas somebody is utilizing HIV prevention meds inconsistently, although uncommon, may lead to simply sufficient medicine within the blood to maintain the extent of virus within the blood very low. It’s unclear whether or not present checks would catch that, he stated.

That’s the place the ADVANCE research is available in. Along with asking questions on males’s sexual conduct and testing blood for HIV, researchers may even check blood for concentrations of one of the vital widespread PrEP medicine, tenofovir. After 2 weeks, members return to seek out out the outcomes of the HIV check and fill out one other, longer questionnaire on private conduct. By correlating concentrations of the drug to HIV testing, they hope to determine whether or not that theoretical threat is an actual threat. Custer stated they hope to have research outcomes early subsequent yr.

It’s additionally potential, he stated, that individuals who take PrEP are at decrease threat of donating blood containing HIV as a result of the medicine is 99% efficient in stopping HIV. Proper now it’s a paradox.

“I don’t know if it is going to be sufficient,” he stated of the info they’ll be gathering. “By way of a mixture of testing biomarkers for an infection and PrEP use, in addition to self-reported behaviors, we’re going to come back as shut as we are able to to having the proof.”

However possibly it doesn’t must be sufficient. Because the FDA lowered the MSM deferral interval to three months in April 2020, the Transfusion-Transmissible An infection Monitoring System (TTIMS) has been following whether or not there’s been an uptick in donations containing HIV. Thus far, researchers haven’t analyzed that information, however they count on to have outcomes by the tip of 2022.

It’s additionally unclear whether or not the ADVANCE research will lead to adjustments to the FDA’s deferral insurance policies for homosexual males. If it does, the U.S. will be part of the U.Ok., France, and Greece, amongst others, to donate primarily based on conduct, not id. That might make 4.2 million individuals eligible. Primarily based on the proportion of eligible individuals who really donate, that might be a further 615,300 pints of blood.

No matter occurs, Katz stated it’s clear the FDA will want new information to make its choice.

In response to him, a greater science-based coverage would possibly defer non-monogamous homosexual males from giving blood for 7 to 10 days after their final sexual expertise, in order that HIV checks may choose up a brand new an infection, after which base donations on precise particular person conduct as an alternative of a blanket deferral primarily based on id.

“There’s no purpose we are able to’t do higher,” he stated. “Backside line, we don’t have an excellent sense but for the perfect behavioral approaches, and that’s what the analysis is asking.”

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