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Explaining the MSM Deferral

Stanford Blood Center’s mission is to provide a safe and adequate blood supply to the local hospitals that we serve. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and AABB (formerly American Association of Blood Banks) set criteria for blood donor eligibility at the national level. State law dictates that all blood donor centers must adhere to these standards in screening potential donors. The intent of these standards is to maximize the safety of the blood supply; the standards are not intended to send a message to any individual regarding his or her infectious disease status. The blood center in no way endorses homophobia or racial stereotypes.

All blood centers in the U.S. perform a variety of tests for infectious agents, including two tests for HIV. However, there is no 100 percent reliable test for every infectious disease that can be transmitted through blood. For every infectious agent, there is a “window” (delay) between the time of exposure and the time that a laboratory test is able to detect evidence of infection in a person’s blood. During this “window,” donor questioning for potential exposure to the infectious agent serves as the only protection of the blood supply. This is why the FDA requires all blood centers to question donors about activities that are associated with an increased risk of exposure to infectious agents. The FDA requires the use of broad donor screening questions that select a low-risk donor population. These questions are developed with input from the U.S. public health service. Blood centers rely on donors answering all medical history questions honestly.

According to statistics from the public health service, men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to represent a population at increased risk of acquiring HIV infection. Although heterosexual spread of HIV is increasing nationally, in California men who have sex with men continue to account for approximately 2/3 of HIV infections.

Blood centers across the country exclude large numbers of healthy people every year to increase the safety of the blood supply. For example, hundreds of thousands of donors are deferred each year due to travel to malaria risk regions in Mexico, Central, and South America, even though malaria is rarely acquired by travelers to these regions. Restrictions designed to protect the blood supply cause the eligible pool of donors to shrink each year. In fact, only 39 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood. As a result, blood centers across the nation struggle to provide adequate blood supplies.