Last updated: 06/30/2021
By: Yvette Marie Miller, MD., Executive Medical Officer
By: Kathleen M. Grima, MD., Executive Medical Officer
By: Mary Ann Plonowski., RN., BSN
Note to users: Eligibility guidelines may have changed since this information was last updated. For current information, please contact the American Red Cross blood region nearest you.
In-Depth Discussion of Age and Blood Donation
Those younger than age 17 are almost always legal minors (not yet of the age of majority) who cannot give consent by themselves to donate blood. (Each state determines its own age of majority, which can be different for different activities.)
Persons under the age of 17 may, however, donate blood for their own use, in advance of scheduled surgery or in situations where their blood has special medical value for a particular patient such as a family member.
In-Depth Discussion of Variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease and Blood Donation
In some parts of the world, cattle can get an infectious, fatal brain disease called Mad Cow Disease. In these same locations, humans have started to get a new disease called variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (vCJD) which is also a fatal brain disease. Scientists believe that vCJD is Mad Cow Disease that has somehow transferred to humans, possibly through the food chain.
There is now evidence from a small number of case reports involving patients and laboratory animal studies that vCJD can be transmitted through transfusion. There is no test for vCJD in humans that could be used to screen blood donors and to protect the blood supply. This means that blood programs must take special precautions to keep vCJD out of the blood supply by not collecting blood from those who have been where this disease is found.
At this time, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) donor eligibility rules related to vCJD are as follows:
You are not eligible to donate if:
From January 1, 1980, through December 31, 1996, you spent (visited or lived) a cumulative time of 3 months or more, in any country in the United Kingdom (UK),
- Channel Islands
- Falkland Islands
- Isle of Man
- Northern Ireland
From January 1, 1980, to present, you had a blood transfusion in any of the countries listed below:
- Channel Islands
- Falkland Islands
- Isle of Man
- Northern Ireland
You spent (visited or lived) a cumulative time of 5 years or more from January 1, 1980, through December 31, 2001, in France or Ireland.
In-Depth Discussion of Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (CJD) and Blood Donation
CJD is a rare, progressive and fatal brain disorder that occurs in all parts of the world and has been known about for decades. CJD is different from variant CJD, the new disease in humans thought to be associated with Mad Cow disease in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
CJD appears to be an infectious disease. It has been transmitted from infected humans to patients through the transplantation of the covering of the brain (dura mater), use of contaminated brain electrodes, and injection of growth hormones derived from human pituitary glands. Rarely, CJD is associated with an hereditary predisposition; that is, it occurs in biologic or “blood” relatives (persons in the same genetic family).
There is evidence that CJD can be transmitted from donors to patients through blood transfusions. There is no test for CJD that could be used to screen blood donors. This means that blood programs must take special precautions to keep CJD out of the blood supply by not taking blood donations from those who might have acquired this infection.
You are considered to be at higher risk of carrying CJD if you received a dura mater (brain covering) graft. If you have had a dura mater transplant, you should not donate blood until more is known about CJD and the risk to the blood supply. If you have been diagnosed with vCJD, CJD or any other TSE or have a blood relative diagnosed with genetic CJD (e.g., fCJD, GSS, or FFI) you cannot donate. If you received an injection of cadaveric pituitary human growth hormone (hGH) you cannot donate. Human cadaveric pituitary-derived hGH was available in the U.S. from 1958 to 1985. Growth hormone received after 1985 is acceptable.
In-Depth Discussion of Hepatitis and Blood Donation
"Hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by many things including gallstones, medications, drinking alcohol, obesity and liver infections.
Hepatitis caused by Hepatitis B virus and Hepatitis C virus can be easily transmitted from donors to patients through transfusion. It is possible for a donor to carry a hepatitis virus even though he has never been sick with an inflamed liver, and he feels entirely well at the time of donation.
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are transmitted between people through sexual contact and blood-to-blood contact, such as occurs when needles are shared during IV drug use. Hepatitis viruses can also be transmitted from mothers to their unborn babies. However, many people who have hepatitis virus infection cannot determine how they became infected. There is a vaccine for the hepatitis B virus.
All blood donations are tested for hepatitis B and hepatitis C with several different tests. But because these tests are not perfect, it is still important for people who may be infected with hepatitis viruses to not donate blood. In some cases, all that is required is a waiting period after some particular event, such as an exposure to a patient with hepatitis, to be sure the person was not infected. In other cases, the likelihood of hepatitis is high enough that the person is not eligible to donate regardless of how much time has gone by. Donors who have ever been diagnosed with hepatitis B or C, even if treated, are not eligible to donate blood.
In-Depth Discussion of Malaria and Blood Donation
Malaria is a blood infection caused by a parasite that can be transmitted from a donor to a patient through transfusion. It is possible to have a new infection with malaria but have no symptoms, even though the parasite is present in your blood. It is also possible to feel well, but have a very mild case of malaria, especially if you have lived for extended periods of time in parts of the world where malaria is found.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keep track of the locations with malaria for international travelers from the United States, and this information is available on their web site. You can see if malaria is found in the location you traveled to or lived in by searching for it on the CDC web- site. Malaria Information by country can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/country_table/a.html.
Blood donations are not tested for malaria. Therefore, it is important that people who may have malaria or been exposed to malaria because of living in, or traveling to, a country where malaria is present not be allowed to donate blood until enough time has passed to be certain that they are not infected with malaria. This is done by having a waiting period for those who lived in, move from, or traveled to, the locations with malaria.
If you have traveled outside of the United States, your travel destinations will be reviewed to see if you were in a malaria-risk area. It would be most helpful if you came prepared to report the country and city or destinations to which you traveled, as well as the travel dates.
In-Depth Discussion of Blood Pressure
When you come to donate blood at the American Red Cross, we take your blood pressure to determine whether you are eligible to donate. We measure your blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and hemoglobin because the results provide information about your current health at the time of your donation.
What is blood pressure and what does it mean?
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood being pushed by your heart against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Your blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day based on your activities. Your blood pressure reading contains two numbers, for example 130/80. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
Physical exam results vary throughout the day. Stress, nutrition, illness, hydration, weight, activity, environment and even consumption of certain ingredients (for example, salt or caffeine) may affect the results of the physical exam. If your result does not meet the minimum/maximum requirement at the time of your attempted donation you will not be permitted to donate. The Red Cross does not diagnose medical conditions or offer treatment.