Facing a holiday slump, area blood banks are urging Utahns to give - if they can meet increasingly rigid donor standards.
Those standards are outlined in nearly 40 written and oral questions, including ones about a potential donor's travel outside the United States.Concerned that HIV 2, a virus that causes an AIDS-like disease, is running rampant in the western part of Africa, persons who have lived there - or had sex with someone who did - cannot donate blood at IHC Blood Services.
The University of Utah is carrying the standards even further.
Anyone who just visited Haiti, sub-Saharan Africa or the islands located near that part of Africa "long enough to have had heterosexual activity" cannot donate blood at the U. Medical Center.
Their age at the time of the visit - or reason for being in the country - does not alter the ruling at the U.
"If they were there only a short period, we try to find out if the donor had any risk behaviors, such as any sexual contacts, injections or blood transfusions in those areas of the world," Laub said. "If they didn't, then we are allowing them to donate when they become eligible." They must also meet malaria standards.
Blood bank officials admit some people, including a few longtime donors, are offended by the strict requirements.
"I know it creates some tension for people who have gone on missions to those areas, but we are not in a position to make any judgment about what activities they engaged in when they lived there," said Ellen Fisher, supervisor of the blood donor and apheresis center, Associated Regional University Pathologists at the U. Medical Center.
"But our ultimate responsibility is to the patient and the safety of the product we provide to the patient. Obviously we rely on donors and don't want to offend them, but we may have to run that risk to protect the patient."
For years, the federal Food and Drug Administration has prohibited the donation of blood in U.S. blood banks by any person born in or immigrating from countries where heterosexual activity "is thought to play a major role in the transmission of HIV 1 or HIV 2 infection."
"Originally, the FDA said anyone coming from these areas after 1977 should be excluded," said Dr. Myron Laub, director of IHC Blood Services and LDS Hospital's Blood Bank.
The exclusion includes immigrants from all African countries except Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Somalia and Western Sahara.
In February, the FDA issued an amendment to its standards. It said anyone who has ever lived or immigrated from those countries is prohibited from giving blood stateside.
Following an outcry from Haitians claiming discrimination, Laub said the FDA recently softened its position. It said persons who have had no risk behaviors or possible exposures to HIV 1 can donate blood - despite their place of origin.
"That's because we have a good test for HIV 1, the virus that causes the most common kind of AIDS," Laub said.
But for HIV 2, a second virus that causes a disease almost identical to AIDS, the FDA did not remove the restrictions.
"Until a cost-effective test for HIV 2 is available, any person who has immigrated from or lived in sub-Saharan Africa cannot give blood," Laub said.
He is hopeful such a test will be available in the first quarter of 1991.
Meanwhile, however, the need for blood over the holidays is critical.
"We had increased collections last week thanks to a staff blood drive, but we are going into the holiday slump," Fisher said.
Typically only 3 percent to 5 percent of Utahns eligible to donate blood do so. Caught up in holiday activities, even fewer Utahns remember to donate around Christmas and New Years. Yet the need for blood doesn't decrease.
"Our donors are super, and usually when we need blood, they respond. We appreciate the opportunity to get the word out that donations are down during the holidays, and we do need their support."