All blood donated through the American Red Cross must undergo extensive testing to ensure that it is safe as possible to give to patients. However, some serious conditions cannot be identified by basic testing and must be self-reported for additional investigation.
One common way that donors can be exposed to untestable conditions is through travel outside the U.S. and Canada. At every blood donation appointment, your health check will include questions about foreign travel. By answering honestly, you help to ensure the safety of the blood supply for patients in need.
Some of the questions you may be asked include:
- If, in the past 3 years, you have been outside the United States or Canada:
- What countries did you visit?
- Where did you travel while in this country?
- Did you leave the city or resort at any time? If yes, where did you go?
- What mode of transportation did you use?
- How long did you stay?
- What date did you return to the U.S.?
We recommend that you look up your travel details prior to your donation appointment. You can download the travel form and bring it with you to help in the assessment of your travel.
If you are uncertain about your eligibility to donate, you can call 866-236-3276 to speak directly with an eligibility specialist before making a donation appointment.
Some diseases that can be contracted overseas
Malaria is transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes found in certain countries and may be transmitted to patients through blood transfusion. Blood donations are not tested for malaria because there is no sensitive blood test available yet.
To see if malaria is found in the location you traveled to or lived in, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) website.
If you have traveled or lived in a country with a high risk of malaria, a waiting period may be required before you can donate blood. These restrictions are subject to change, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org/faq.html#eligibility-travel for the most current restrictions and waiting periods.
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (“Mad Cow” Disease, vCJD)
In 2020 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated its deferral for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) related to mad cow disease, making those who spent long periods of time in certain European countries now eligible to donate blood or platelets. Recently, the FDA further updated its blood donor eligibility guidance on vCJD related to mad cow disease, effectively removing the deferral. Those who spent time in the UK, Ireland and France and have never tried to give blood may be able to donate blood with the Red Cross, beginning Oct. 3. (Those who have previously tried and been deferred from donating will be contacted by the Red Cross once system records are updated.)
For more information, see our Eligibility Reference Material.
Like malaria, the Zika virus is transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes. To date it has been found in North and South America, certain African countries and Southeast Asia. If you have been diagnosed with Zika virus infection, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org/faq.html#eligibility-travel for the latest information on eligibility.
Ebola is an extremely serious and often fatal virus. Ebola epidemics have primarily occurred in Western Africa. You are not eligible to donate blood if you have ever had Ebola virus infection or disease.
How Can I Get Involved If I’m Unable to Give Blood?
If you are unable to donate blood, consider donating your time volunteering or hosting a blood drive through the Red Cross. You can also help by making a financial donation which will enable the Red Cross to ensure an ongoing blood supply, provide humanitarian support to families in need and make communities more resilient by teaching lifesaving skills.