Did you know that if you travel to certain places — or have been in certain places for a defined period of time — you will be denied the opportunity to donate whole blood, platelets, red blood cells and other blood components in the United States?
I have known this for years. I have donated platelets close to 150 times, as well as a couple of gallons of whole blood. I traveled to Panama several years ago and I was not allowed to give blood or platelets for twelve months because Panama is one of the countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an area where malaria is present everywhere. Because blood is not tested for malaria, any person who has traveled to an area known to have malaria present is considered a risk — even if the person may not be suffering from the effects of malaria — and will therefore be denied the opportunity to donate blood for twelve months.
To complicate the frustration of travelers who want to donate blood or blood components, the list of countries can change. Ensure that you click on the map above to see its latest iteration before you travel to determine if you will be eligible to donate blood and blood components when you return.
There are other factors which may disqualify you from donating blood and blood components, according to the eligibility requirements of the American Red Cross — however, we will discuss the ones here which are mostly related to travel.
You are not eligible to donate blood if from January 1, 1980 through December 31, 1996, you spent — meaning visited or lived — a cumulative time of three months or more, in the United Kingdom; or from January 1, 1980 to present, you had a blood transfusion in France or any one or more of the following countries in the United Kingdom, including:
- Channel Islands
- Falkland Islands
- Isle of Man
- Northern Ireland
You are not eligible to donate blood if you were a member of the United States military, a civilian military employee, or a dependent of a member of the United States military who spent a total time of six months on or associated with a military base in any of the following areas during the specified time frames
- From 1980 through 1990 — Belgium, the Netherlands or Holland, or Germany
- From 1980 through 1996 — Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy or Greece.
You are not eligible to donate blood if you spent — meaning visited or lived — a cumulative time of five years or more from January 1, 1980 to present, in any combination of the following countries in Europe, including:
- The United Kingdom from 1980 through 1996 as listed above
- On or associated with military bases as described above, and
- In other countries in Europe as listed below:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Czech Republic
- Republic of Ireland
- Kosovo, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
- Montenegro, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
- Netherlands, also known as Holland
- Serbia, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
- Slovak Republic, also known as Slovakia
- The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia
Sexual orientation can also preclude your eligibility of being able to donate blood in the United States — but health officials in Great Britain reportedly lifted a ban on gay men donating blood, as long as their last sexual contact with another man was more than a year earlier.
FlyerTalk members are proud to donate blood and blood components — many on a regular basis, and especially when blood supply levels are low — even without an incentive, such as receiving 500 AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program miles offered by American Airlines simply for donating blood back in 1999.
Although it should not be necessary, it would be nice to see similar incentives offered by frequent travel loyalty programs to help increase the supply of blood and blood components for those who need them.
I personally like to donate platelets because I can do so every two weeks — up to a maximum of 24 times per year — as several recipients can benefit from one apheresis donation. It may take a couple of hours of my time, but I can choose to listen to music, watch a movie or get some work done — and I get to eat cookies afterwards! Yay! How can anyone not want cookies?!?
More importantly — unlike money or material possessions — donating platelets and blood is the most personal way of literally giving of yourself to a person in need. To be able to save the life of someone somewhere who needs it is quite rewarding for me. I truly believe that alone is worth two hours of my time.
If your beliefs are similar, I strongly encourage you to please donate either whole blood or blood components — but before you do, please be sure to read this discussion on FlyerTalk first pertaining to experiencing any side effects to donating blood. I do not suffer from side effects when I donate — but you might, and I would like for you to be safe and healthy if and when you decide to save the life of someone in need.