Blood Donation Guidelines for Hepatitis A, B, and C

Donations are denied for some, but not all viral types

There are specific restrictions around blood donation to keep the blood supply safe for those who need it. People with viral hepatitis make the list of those who cannot donate blood because of a pre-existing health condition, but this does not apply to all types of hepatitis.

Nurse administering treatment to patient
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If you have viral hepatitis and are inclined to donate blood, it's worth learning if you're truly barred from doing so or not. According to the American Red Cross, someone in the United States needs a blood transfusion every two seconds, translating to around 36,000 units of blood per day. With such a need, anyone who is willing to give blood (and cleared to do so) should.

Hepatitis Type Permitted to Donate Prohibited to Donate
A √ (with caveat)  

Who Can Donate

Hepatitis A is mainly spread through contaminated food or water. If you have ever had hepatitis A, which is common in the U.S., you can donate blood, but you will need to delay doing so if you have active signs of hepatitis—whatever the cause. Your donation will be accepted after you have fully recovered.

Hepatitis E is similar to hepatitis A with the same routes of infection and outcomes. Mainly constrained to Central Asia, hepatitis E is not commonly screened in the United States. Even if you have hepatitis E, you can donate blood.

Other less common causes of hepatitis include the following, none of which exclude you as a blood donation candidate:

You can donate blood if you have had non-viral hepatitis from toxic exposure, drug reaction, or alcohol use so long as there are no symptoms of hepatitis at the time of the donation.

Who Can't Donate

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C outright rule you out as a blood donor. If you have ever had either of these, your donation will be rejected irrespective of whether you had symptoms or not.

Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are bloodborne viruses that are highly communicable.

Although newer direct-acting antivirals first introduced in 2007 have achieved high levels of cure rates in people with hepatitis C, people who have been infected still cannot be blood donors whether they have been cured or not.

Hepatitis D only occurs in people who are infected with hepatitis B because it is considered an "incomplete virus."  Because of this, it is not necessary to screen the blood supply in the United States. If you have hepatitis D, you have hepatitis B as well and are, therefore, not allowed to be a blood donor.

Other Restrictions

Because viral hepatitis is spread by different means, health authorities have placed the following restrictions on people who may have been exposed to hepatitis B or C.

Among them:

  • If you live with someone or have had sex with someone who has hepatitis, you must wait 12 months after the last contact before you can donate.
  • You must also wait 12 months after receiving a blood transfusion (unless it was your own blood) or having been exposed to an unsterile needle (such as through shared needle use or an accidental needle-stick injury).

Blood Screening in the United States

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), through the Center for Biologics and Research (CBER), is responsible for ensuring the safety of the roughly 19 million units of whole blood donated in the United States each year.

To keep the blood supply safe, the FDA has established regulations to screen donors before a donation and to screen donated blood after it has been received by blood banks. To help with this, an extensive questionnaire is given to donors to collect information about their medical history and any risk factors that may exclude them from donating.

Blood received from donors then undergoes routine screening for the following blood-transmitted infections:

Any donated blood is quarantined until it is tested and shown to be free of infection.

Due to advanced blood screening practices, the risk of the accidental transmission of hepatitis B and C from contaminated blood is less than one in 500,000 and one in two million transfused units, respectively.

Hesitations Toward Blood Donation

Although 37% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, less than 5% do so annually, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Transfusion. Among the commonly cited reasons why people avoid donating is the presumption that they are "medically disqualified" to donate.

Many of these attitudes stem back to the 1970s and 1980s when reports of infection among hemophiliacs given tainted blood fueled fears among donors and recipients alike. During those years, no less than 6,000 hemophiliacs in the United States became infected with HIV, hepatitis, or both.

Although doubts about the safety of the U.S. blood supply have largely subsided due to advances in blood screening, there are some who avoid donating because it may reveal that they have an infection like HIV or hepatitis.

If you have hepatitis and have a type that does not restrict you from donating, it is worth considering given the public need. If you think you might have hepatitis—either due to the presence of symptoms or because of a known exposure—but are fearful of donating because it may confirm your concern, know that the sooner hepatitis is identified, the more sooner you can access treatment that can keep you well and healthy for many years.

How and Where to Donate

The need for blood donation is critical and ongoing. From the time of donation, blood can be stored in a refrigerator for only 42 days. Moreover, blood centers typically run out of types O and B, placing patients with these blood types at risk during public health emergencies.

If you are least 16 years of age in most states, are in good health, and weigh at least 110 pounds, you are eligible to be considered as a blood donor. You can find where to donate blood near you by accessing the American Red Cross website.

From start to finish, the blood donation process takes around the hour, including 10 minutes to draw one pint of blood.

  • Get a good night's rest the day before the donation

  • Eat a healthy, iron-rich meal before a donation

  • Drink plenty of fluids the day before and the day of the donation

  • Have a snack and fluids immediately afterward

  • Rest for 24 hours after donation

  • Bring a friend to donate with you or to drive you home if needed

  • Donate if you are not feeling well

  • Donate on an empty stomach

  • Drink caffeine before giving blood, as it may cause dehydration

  • Smoke one hour before or one hour after a blood donation

  • Take aspirin two days before donating platelets, as this may interfere with clotting

  • Exercise for 24 hours after giving blood

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11 Sources
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