HEALTH

ARUP blood services said updated donation guidelines help donors and patients

Jun 6, 2024, 5:50 PM | Updated: 6:35 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — ARUP Blood Services employees said they’ve seen positive trends in the last year since FDA guidance was updated.

The organization is the sole provider of blood to the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Hospitals.

“Last year in May, the FDA removed the policy that prevented gay men from being able to donate, and it’s been just about a year now when that’s happened. And ARUP blood services was the first in Utah, and likely the first in the country, to go live allowing gay men to be able to come back,” medical director Dr. Waseem Anani said.

Previously, men who answered screening questions saying they had sex with other men were deferred.

“Our testing is so good that we can pretty much catch every single case of HIV and pretty much every case of hepatitis that comes through,” Anani said. “In fact, we haven’t had a transfusion transmitted case of HIV since, really, the beginning of the modern testing era. So there was no reason to continue deferring men based on an old policy that didn’t really hold up with the science.”

He said ARUP saw a bump in donors, especially men, once it eased its restrictions in July, 2023.

“On July 18th, and for the two weeks afterwards, we actually had the highest number of donors that we’ve had in the history for the summertime without any promotions,” Anani said. “We think that’s because of the fact that we were more inclusive and we allowed donors to come in.”

ARUP LGBTQIA+ employee engagement group member Elijah Hancock said the revised guidelines have been a boost for the community.

“There’s some of my colleagues who were previously unable to donate who can now happily donate,” he said.

Under the new guidance, donors are asked behavior-based questions. Their sexual orientation isn’t tracked.

“We don’t track these donors in particular because we want everyone to come in to feel that they are like everyone else and that they are not being singled out,” Anani said.

Hancock said the guidelines don’t allow every member of the community to be a donor, but he said it’s a monumental step.

“Anything that can make people from this community feel more safe and more included, and feel like they’re safe to go into a blood donation clinic and donate blood if they’re eligible, that’s so important,” he said.

On the recipient side, Anani said the blood is safe.

“We screen our donors very heavily with questions…We also test every single unit that goes off to the hospital,” he said.

Dr. Anani emphasized the risk of getting HIV or any infectious disease from blood is low.

“The risk of getting, for example, HIV from blood is theoretical,” he said. “We can’t even calculate the actual risk of getting it because no one has gotten it in so long. But the anecdote that a lot of people use is that the risk of getting HIV from blood is the same risk of your plane falling out of the sky.”

The doctor said there is some wariness from people to donate who previously weren’t allowed.

“I think it’s fair to say that there will be some and it likely still lingers, and it’s because they haven’t been able to donate for so long,” Anani said. “And it’s hard when you walk into a new space to feel like you’re welcome.”

He said he’s hopeful the more welcoming donation centers are, the more people will choose to give blood.

“We’ve had couples come in and donate together for the first time in their lives because they weren’t able to donate before,” Anani said.

He said donations are typically lower during the summer months and encourages donors to come in. Anani said they would need 70 successful donations per day in order to meet hospital demands.

“We take the blood, we process it, and we send samples off for testing, and this is all of the infectious disease testing, HIV, hepatitis, all that stuff that we keep to make sure that the blood is safe, that takes about two days to come back,” he said. “Once we’ve actually collected your unit of blood, usually about 48 hours later, it’s in the hospital and ready to go.”

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ARUP blood services said updated donation guidelines help donors and patients