College campuses provide a large pool of potential blood donors, but many students are unaware of restrictions to prevent them from donating.
Students generally understand that they need to be healthy in order to donate blood, but are often surprised to be turned away despite having good health. Healthy students often prevented from giving blood include petite women, gay males, vegetarians, veterans serving in Iraq, students recently traveled abroad, and students recently received tattoos or piercings. For people in these categories, being healthy is not a guarantee for blood donation eligibility.
Students must weigh at least 110 pounds in order to donate blood, regardless of their health. Blood volume is partially determined by body weight. Lighter students generally have lower blood volumes and may not be able to tolerate the loss of a pint of blood, the amount needed to make a full donation. This restriction is put in place for the safety of prospective donors.
Men who have had sex with other men automatically receive a lifetime ban from donating blood. Potential donators must participate in a confidential interview about their sexual history; gay men answering honestly will be indefinitely deferred from donating. This is a Food and Drug Administration policy that blood donation banks such as the Red Cross are required to follow. There has been controversy over the rationality and scientific-basis behind this policy, but it is enforced to protect blood recipients from potential harm.
Vegetarian students are often unable to donate blood due to the lack of sufficient iron levels. Vegetarians are often thought to have healthier diets than other students, but meat is a main source of iron that vegetarians do not receive. Before donating, iron levels are checked in a blood sample. Many vegetarians are unaware of an iron deficiency before having a blood sample taken. To avoid anemia, vegetarians can eat iron-rich foods such as spinach, tofu, broccoli, and beans, or take iron-supplements.
Veterans from Iraq within the last 12 months are prevented from giving blood. This restriction is in place to prevent the spread of Leishmanaisis, a parasitic infection transmitted through the bite of infected sand flies. The infection can be transmitted from a donor to a patient through transfusion. Anyone with Leishmanaisis in the past is permanently ineligible to donate blood.
Students traveled or lived in countries where malaria is found often are deferred from giving blood. Malaria is a blood infection caused by a parasite transmitted through blood transfusion. It is possible to have a new infection of malaria without having symptoms, so students must wait a full year to donate after visiting any country with malaria.
It is also possible to feel well but have a very mild case of malaria, especially for those in areas where malaria is found for extended periods of time. Students in a country where malaria is found must wait at least three years to give blood after returning to the United States. Students who have recently participated in study-abroad programs in South America, Africa, and Asia are often barred from donating blood as these continents contain many places with a high malaria risk.
Students who have recently received piercings or tattoos may also be prevented from donating. Students unsure of the sterility of their piercings should wait a year before donating blood. Students who have received tattoos in states that do not regulate tattoo facilities must also wait a year before donating. Wisconsin does regulate its tattoo facilities.