This week's 'Ask Evan' question comes from Robbin S. Robbin asks, "For people who have lived in certain areas overseas, during certain years, there is a lifetime ban on donating blood. We've been told that we cannot donate blood due to mad cow disease since we were in Europe serving in the military. No one has ever been diagnosed with it, so what is the real reason we cannot donate!?"
First, the American Red Cross always wants as many donors as possible-- donating as much blood as possible. However, there are guidelines in place that does restrict who can donate blood. Per your specific question-- the Red Cross tells me this. Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (VCJD)- or the human form of "mad cow disease," is a very rare, fatal disease that can infect a person for many years before making them sick by destroying brain cells. It is important to note that all blood collectors in the United States, including the American Red Cross, are required to follow the guidelines set forth by the Food and Drug Administration.
FDA regulations state that a person is ineligible to donate if they have visited or lived in the United Kingdom between January 1, 1980 and December 31, 1996 for a cumulative time of three months or more.
There is no test for mad cow disease that can be used to screen blood donations-- so the Red Cross says the best way to safeguard the blood supply is to not collect blood donations from those individuals who may have been exposed to this rare, but fatal disease.
As for deferred military donors-- those include any former or current U.S. Military personnel, civilian military personnel, and their dependents who resided at U.S. Military bases in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands for six months or more from 1980 through 1990. Also, any individuals who resided at U.S. Military bases in Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal and Italy for six months or more from 1980 through 1996.
While the Red Cross says the need for blood is constant and it encourages those who are eligible to give, they must ensure that donated blood is as safe as possible for patients who receive it.
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