Donating blood: Your travel history says yes or no

When I went to the library yesterday morning I wasn’t planning on donating blood, but there was a sweet older American Red Cross volunteer with lovely white hair that looks like spun sugar. She was so happy thinking that I had come to sign up when I walked towards her. I was actually on my way to meet with my writing group, but I didn’t want to disappoint her and promised I’d donate before I left. “Oh, you came back,” she said after I re-appeared to sign up on her sign-up sheet when my meeting was over.

Call me co-dependent, but there I was in the blood donation room running through the list of questions about my whereabouts to see if I could give blood or not. Sadly, I haven’t donated blood since I was in the Peace Corps. First, I couldn’t. After living in a country with malaria you’re supposed to wait for a few years. Now the wait is three years. Back when I was in the Peace Corps, I think it was longer. I kept trotting back to Africa each time my donation window appeared. With Mali, Senegal and The Gambia in my distant past, those weren’t a concern yesterday. Nigeria was a red flag.

Anyone who has lived in Nigeria since 1977 can’t donate blood. I have traveled there, but since it was only for 6 weeks I was given the all clear. (The other countries that have similar restrictions are: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Niger.) There is a form of HIV called Type O in these countries that blood screening can’t detect, thus the restriction.

Also on the list of concern are European countries. If you’ve been in European countries of a cumulative time of 5 months since January 1, 1980, you also can’t donate blood. There are more restrictions if you’ve lived or traveled in the United Kingdom. The restrictions are due to Mad Cow disease.

Looking at all the restrictions, it doesn’t take much for world travelers to get bumped off acceptable donor status. As more people travel, I wonder how much this will have an impact on blood supply? I’m glad I was able to add my pint since Asia, where I’ve lived and traveled the most, has an all clear. (See eligibility guidelines to see if you can donate.)