What could disqualify you from being a plasma donor?

02/23/2023

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a draft proposal* for eligibility rules for blood and blood product donation using “gender-inclusive, individual risk-based questions to reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV.” This new guidance brings to light the various limitations on plasma and blood donation and the impact they can have on the plasma supply. There is also a chance you could be temporarily deferred from plasma donation. If you are temporarily deferred, you will be unable to donate for a certain period of time. Most temporary deferrals last for a day, but some can last up to 6 months or even indefinitely.

Plasma donation is essential for those who rely on plasma-derived therapies. But to keep the plasma supply and plasma donors safe, some requirements must be met to be eligible to donate plasma. To donate, you must be at least 18 years old, weigh at least 110 lbs., be in good health, and pass a medical screening. It seems simple, but some restrictions that make you ineligible to donate are not obvious. 

Chronic illness

Those diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness–like high blood pressure, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, or a primary immunodeficiency (PI)–are not eligible to donate plasma. Those who have high blood pressure would need to be tested to see what their current blood pressure is at the time of donating. If it’s high, they would be denied. Those with epilepsy can donate so long as they’ve been seizure free for a certain period of time, which could depend on the donation center. Some, like those with PI or hemophilia, rely on plasma-derived therapies to stay healthy and don’t produce enough plasma on their own to donate. Those with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or other chronic infectious diseases, can spread viruses or other microorganisms through blood components, including plasma. 

Feeling Sick

Illnesses like a cold, flu, or even COVID-19 will temporarily defer you from donating plasma. If you’re feeling ill, you should refrain from plasma donating until you’re better. In fact, donating after recovery from an illness is beneficially to those who recieve plasma, as you’re donating convalescent plasma. Convalescent plasma is an antibody-rich product made from plasma donated by someone who has recovered from a disease/virus, such as COVID-19.

Tattoos

In the United States, anyone who has gotten a tattoo in the last 3-6 months may be ineligible to donate plasma. The deferment time (time the donor has to wait)can vary between donation centers, but donors must typically wait until the tattoo is fully healed to donate plasma after fresh ink. The reason for this is that needles, especially if unclean, can carry a number of bloodborne illnesses that can’t be detected immediately after infection. In the past, donors who had a recent tattoo had to wait up to one year, but in 2020, FDA updated its recommendation to a three-month deferral period

Age Limit

The age to donate is 18, but for many plasma centers, anyone older than 64 may also be ineligible. While there’s no true maximum age limit for donating plasma, typically those who are 64 and older are more likely to be denied or deferred from donating. As we age, our plasma production can decrease, meaning those who have experienced this will not be able to safely donate plasma. Some donation centers may ask those over the age of 64 to undergo additional medical screenings or speak to their physician about donating plasma.

Transplants

After receiving a transplant, it’s natural to want to give back. However, those who have received an organ/tissue transplant from another human will be unable to donate for up to three months. Certain transplants, like dura mater (brain covering), animal organs, or living animal tissue, can permanently disqualify you from donating. If you undergo a bone marrow transplant (BMT), you are considered immunocompromised for 6 months to one year after, which would likely disqualify you from donating plasma during this time.

Medications

Certain medications will disqualify or defer you from donating plasma. Some medications of these daily medication for serious medical conditions could be for blood thinners, immune suppressants, while others could be for acne treatment or hair loss prevention. If you are on any medication, PlasmaLab has a list that shows all medications that can disqualify you from donating, how long you could be deferred for taking the medication, and lists why these medications disqualify you. Each plasma center is different and could have different medications that prevent you from donating. For more information, you will need to contact your local plasma center.

History of Anemia 

Much like blood donation, if you have a history of anemia, you will be unable to donate plasma. Anemia is a condition in which a person lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body's tissues. When you go to a donation center, a small sample of blood will be taken. This blood is run through a series of tests, including a hemaglobin test to measure the amount of hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body's organs and tissues and transports carbon dioxide from your organs and tissues back to your lungs. If a hemoglobin test reveals that your hemoglobin level is lower than normal, it means you have a low red blood cell count (anemia).

In order to donate, female donors must have a hemoglobin level of at least 12.5g/dL, and male donors are required to have a minimum level of 13.0g/dL. If you are not at these levels, you will be unable to donate. 

Surgery and Transfusions

If you've recently had surgery, you could be denied for donating plasma until your are recovered. You can also be temporarily deferred if you've recently received a blood transfusion, you will be deferred for up to three months. Many of those who undergo surgery are given donated blood, which will defer you from donation, as well. 

Served Jail Time

If you have been detained or incarcerated in a facility (like juvenile detention, lockup, jail, or prison) for more than 72 consecutive hours, you cannot donate blood or plasma for 12 months from your release date, including work release programs and weekend incarceration. These precautions are set in place as persons serving time are at a higher risk for exposure to infectious diseases. 

Traveling in At-Risk Countries

In November 2022, the FDA lifted the restrictions for blood and plasma donation surrounding travel in areas you could contract Mad Cow Disease. However, there are still areas with travel restrictions. If you’ve traveled to or lived in a country that has high rates of malaria, you could be deferred or disqualified from donating, depending on how long you were there or if you contracted malaria during your stay. The risk of malaria is taken very seriously at blood and plasma donation centers, as it can be passed on through blood. 

There are other illnesses that can prevent plasma donation. Zika virus is another risk from traveling that would defer you from donating if you contract the virus. If you contract Ebola, you are permanently disqualified from donating blood and plasma.

It is important to note that donor eligibility is at the sole discretion of the plasma collection facility. Even if you meet the eligibility requirements, they may not allow you to donate for other reasons. If you have specific questions about your eligibility, you should speak to your local plasma donation center or your doctor. If you’re interested in donating plasma, you can find a donation center near you.

*Update: On May 11, 2023, the FDA finalized the move to recommend individual risk assessment to determine eligibility for blood and plasma donations in the United States. 

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