Drawing blood has drawbacks

Pierce College students may have experienced drawbacks when donating blood because of the FDA’s policies and restrictions.

Hannah Pederson, Senior Online Reporter

This year marks the 35th since those who identify as gay were viewed as a carrier among other stigmas and stereotypes.

The HIV/AIDS endemic of the ‘80s had a significant toll on the LGBTQ+ community, and though the height of the scare has long been over, its scars are still visible today in many ways.

HIV is no longer a death sentence, and it hasn’t been for many years. Medical science has made significant progress in the detection, prevention and treatment of HIV, with antiretroviral therapy drugs that, when taken daily, slow the virus and reduce chances of transmission, according to aids.gov.

Those who don’t have the virus but are in a relationship with someone who does can take these drugs as a precaution, and screening tests are much more timely and accurate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, there are three varieties of HIV screening tests with the quickest taking anywhere from seven to 28 days to provide accurate results and the slowest taking three to 12 weeks.  

According to the CDC’s HIV Surveillance Report analyzing diagnoses in the United States and dependent areas with data from 2010 through July 2015, the number of diagnoses is stable. No more people have been exposed to HIV than in past years, which means prevention methods continue to be effective.

Some people might be at a higher risk than others if they have preexisting sexually transmitted infections or share needles, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically infected.

“Anybody can have HIV,” Rhiannon Webber, president of the Pierce College Puyallup Gay Straight Alliance, said.

In the CDC report, every demographic was represented, from young heterosexual women to elderly gay men.

As of Oct. 1, the Food and Drug Administration will be enacting a new policy for donating blood and blood products, most commonly plasma.

Previously, if a gay man had had sex in his lifetime and wanted to donate, he’d be turned away. After Oct. 1, he’ll only be turned away if he’s had male-to-male sex in the past year.

This rule has been a cause of some concern in the LGBTQ+ community, especially after the shooting in Pulse, the Orlando nightclub, where 49 people died and 53 were wounded.

Gay men weren’t able to provide the blood needed for emergency transfusions because they were sexually active, and the FDA deemed them at too high of a risk to donate.

The Puyallup campus holds a blood drive once or twice every quarter through Cascade Regional Blood Services, a blood bank with donation centers in downtown Puyallup, Tacoma and Federal Way.

Jared Yslas is the assistant director of donor services at CRBS, and said the strict FDA regulations when it comes to gay men donating blood and plasma is most likely because the organization does everything they can to reduce risk of transmission, not because they rely on stereotypes.

“Every single question that we (CRBS) ask a donor is to reduce the risk of communicable disease transmission,” Yslas said. “We need to keep the blood supply safe, that’s of the utmost importance, but at the same time we’re losing valuable donors.”

Blood banks like CRBS have to follow strict FDA guidelines for screening donors and testing blood, according to Yslas.  

“Our policies are very very similar, the questions that we ask are almost identical,” Yslas said. “When it comes to safety and processing, we’re all very cognizant of the risks.”

A Pierce College student who wished to remain anonymous was deferred from donating in the Oct. 5 blood drive.  

“When I went in, the first thing they said was I would be deferred for my eczema, but in my paperwork I had marked ‘no’ on the question have you had sex with a man who has had male-to -male sex in the past year,” the source said.

They asked one of the CRBS employees about their one year deferral policy anyway because of a male-to-male sexual encounter their partner had had in the past.

“She (the employee) was really sweet and understanding, and she fully explained the situation,” the source said. “I have to wait until a year after his encounter, and then a year from that date. Unless we stop having sex for a year, I won’t be able to donate until January 1 of 2018.”

The sources explained that being deferred was a very personal experience for them.
“Seeing as I’ve donated with eczema before, being told that I can’t at all was a big deal to me,” the source said. “The first time I donated it was to see if I had the same blood type as my sibling so I could be an organ donor for them, so being told that I can’t donate for two years was hard because that really affects my family.”
The sources partner has never been able to donate blood due to other factors, but would like to in the future even though they’re barred by this policy.

“It’s not a nice feeling to know that you can’t donate even if you want to,” the sources partner said. “I feel kind of salty because the vibe that this is giving off to me, even though I know it’s not what they’re trying to do, is if you sleep around or have an open sexual life you can’t be 100 percent a good person anymore because you can’t do stuff like donate blood or anything like that.”
Webber thinks that while the new one year policy is an improvement, it’s still not enough.

“I understand the intent of the policy, given that until recently it took six months for HIV to show up in the blood and that it’s more easily transmitted through anal sex,” Webber said. “But a blanket ban (on sexually active gay men) isn’t working.”

Webber hopes that the FDA will continue to loosen its policies preventing gay men from donating.

“I wish they asked questions on a more individualized basis,” Webber said. “Not so much have you had sex with any man ever, but about your practices: are you sexually active, do you practice safe sex, do you know your partner’s history, have you been tested in the last year, things like that.”  

Webber expressed frustration with the lack of language targeted toward trans individuals in the policy.
“I think just the fact that I don’t know what their (the FDA’s) policies for trans individuals are speaks to the inherent stigma because they’re not even taking it into consideration.”

Blood has become invaluable considering that 370 mass shootings have happened in 2016, more than there are days in the year.

“We respect and cherish every donor,” Yslas said. “Anyone who takes time out of their day to give what’s essentially a little piece of themselves for the benefit of the community is very much appreciated.”

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Hannah Pederson

Drawing blood has drawbacks

by Hannah Pederson time to read: 5 min