The Red Cross Blood Service has been hitting the airwaves again, desperately seeking donations as we head into the silly season. In one interview, the Blood Service’s Shaun Inguanzo told my 612 ABC Brisbane colleague Kelly Higgins-Devine there were just under three days’ blood supply left across Australia. Shaun was encouraging listeners to book an appointment straight away. But, the fact is, many of us are not allowed to give blood, myself included. Perhaps you’re disqualified but don’t realise it.
The reason I can’t give blood is I spent a combined six months in the UK between 1980 and 1996. I’m banned because there’s no test for vCJD, the human form of Mad Cow Disease. I wonder how many other people who like to holiday in Britain every couple of years might fit into that category. Even vegetarians who spent six months in the UK during that time are banned because of what the Red Cross calls “the extensive time period covered by the deferral and the possibility of unknowing exposure to beef or beef products”.
Here’s why some people I know are excluded from giving blood: Michael James can’t donate because he’s been male-male sexually active in the past 12 months. The Red Cross says this is because of “the statistically higher incidence of some blood-borne diseases (such as HIV) and the existence of ‘window period’ infections”. Michael says it’s ridiculous that there’s no option for him to tick “I’ve been sexually active unprotected with a monogamous partner of almost a decade”. Jen Hansen can’t donate “because I’ve had piercings and/or tattoos in the last six months”. Lyndal Cairns was turned away “because my fiancé, who had not had sex with anyone but my fine self for years, identified as a bisexual man.” Lyndal says she has been told that “before HIV, gay men were among the blood bank’s biggest donors because they were so community-minded and healthy”.
Kevin Conway can’t give blood “because I had a heart attack 10 years ago and have been on blood thinner ever since.” Daniel Rose has a lifetime exclusion because “when I was eight, I had a blood and bone marrow transfusion from myself – it was taken from my hip and put in my nose – and the blood service does not distinguish between your own product and other people’s”. Ask around and you’ll soon encounter people you know who are not eligible to give blood. You may not agree with the reasons given by the blood service but put yourself in the position of someone receiving blood and then see how strict you want the Red Cross to be with their screening!
Other exclusion categories include those living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, anyone who has been in prison in the last 12 months, and anyone who has been with a male or female sex worker in the last 12 months. If you’ve worked in an abattoir in the last 12 months or had acupuncture in the last four months, only the plasma from your donation can be used. There’s a full list of who can and cannot donate blood at http://www.donateblood.com.au/.
Secretly, I’m relieved that I can’t give blood. I don’t like needles or the sight of blood. But if I could, I would. As soon as researchers come up with a test for vCJD, I’ll be first in line with my sleeves rolled up. Currently only three per cent of Australians give blood. If you can, please do. Don’t assume everyone else will step up to the crease. Call 131 495 now and make an appointment. You can donate if you’re 16 to 81 years of age. You can donate for the first time up to the age of 71. Another friend of mine Gayle Richardson can’t donate because she had blood cancer. But she has received blood: “Two bags after giving birth and eight or 10 during chemotherapy,” she says and urges others: “Please, if you can give blood, do. Thank you to everyone who can and does give blood”.
On a lighter note, in the next issue of bmag I’m going to share with you some swimming pool games that my 11-year-old son Jack and I have invented over the past couple of summers. I’d love to hear about yours. Email me (see the address below) with some fun, original ways to entertain the troops in the pool during the school holidays!