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FDA Reconsiders Gay Blood Ban

The FDA, under pressure from Democrats in Congress, started official reconsideration of its policy limiting blood donations from gay men.
Potential blood donors line up outside the oneblood facility on Beach Blvd. in Jacksonville, Fla., to help the victims from the shooting at a nightclub in Orlando.Bob Self / Florida Times-Union via AP

The Food and Drug Administration, under pressure from Democrats in Congress, started official reconsideration on Tuesday of its policy limiting blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

The FDA began seeking comments on a potential change to its policy, which forbids donations from men who have had sex with other men within the past year.

Tatiana Osorio, of Orlando, cries while giving blood at the OneBlood blood center, June 13. Osorio lost three friends in the shooting.David Goldman / AP

This guideline was softened last year after years of protest.

The ban was originally put in place with the intention of limiting the risk of getting the AIDS virus in blood, but infuriated activists say it’s unfair and discriminatory.

Related: Democrats Urge FDA to Reconsider Blood Policy

The issue came to greater prominence after a June shooting killed 49 people at an Orlando, Florida, club favored by the LGBT community in June.

LGBT groups complained that many friends and loved ones couldn’t give their blood because of the restrictions.

"Shocking: Gay & bisexual blood donations STILL restricted after#Orlando massacre," OUT Magazine tweeted.

The first step in considering a change is opening the issue to public input. It’s in the Federal Register under the title “Blood Donor Deferral Policy for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products; Establishment of a Public Docket; Request for Comments.”

“Specifically, the FDA is inviting comments on the feasibility of moving from the existing time-based deferrals related to risk behaviors to alternate deferral options, such as the use of individual risk assessment,” the FDA said.

In other words, does it make sense to just ban people for a year after having had sex?

Related: Are Gay Men Really Banned From Giving Blood?

Before there was screening for HIV in blood donations, thousands of people caught HIV that way. By the end of 2001, more than 14,000 people became infected with HIV through blood transfusions, many of them children.

Experts estimate that the risk of being infected with HIV if you get a contaminated blood transfusion is 90 percent. And a single blood donation can go into the arms of three different people, the American Red Cross said.

Tests have since improved and all blood is now screened, but tests for HIV don't catch very early infections.

FDA policies also exclude other people at risk of transmitting disease from giving blood, including injecting drug users, people with travel to certain areas and people who’ve recently gotten tattoos.

Blood’s also routinely tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, a virus called HTLV, the bacteria that causes syphilis, West Nile virus and the parasite that causes Chagas disease.