Last week a public health committee charged with making recommendations on U.S. government policy regarding blood donation decided in favor of upholding a current rule prohibiting men who have sex with men from donating blood, the Los Angeles Times reports. In a separate recommendation, the Wall Street Journal health blog reports that a researcher investigating the XMRV virus, which has been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, suggested that, until the relationship between the virus and chronic fatigue is more clearly understood, patients diagnosed with the disorder should not give blood.
Last Friday, June 11th, the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted 9 to 6 against changing a policy, first instituted in 1983 in response to the burgeoning AIDS crisis, which prohibits any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 from donating blood, according to the L.A. Times. Still, the committee did point to a need to develop a more flexible policy — one that reflects individual risk instead of categorizing broad swaths of the population. They characterized the current system as “suboptimal,” saying that existing policy still allows some potentially high-risk donations while unnecessarily prohibiting what are likely low-risk donations.
Also on Friday, in a teleconference hosted by the American Society for Clinical Pathology, Louis Katz, a member of an international blood bank group’s task force studying the link between XMRV virus and chronic fatigue syndrome — the association was suggested in a study published last fall in the journal Science — said that, in light of concerns that the virus could be spread through the blood supply, chronic fatigue patients should not give blood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1 to 4 million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue symptoms. Currently there are no regulations barring chronic fatigue sufferers from donating blood, and any potential policy change would be determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In light of the Science study, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have all implemented policies prohibiting chronic fatigue patients from giving blood.
Katz stressed the need for future research to more clearly examine the relationship between the XMRV virus and chronic fatigue, and said he was eager not to deter anyone unnecessarily from donating blood. As the Journal health blog reports, Katz said:
“I don’t want to lose blood donors I don’t need to lose… If XMRV turns out not to be important, we want to get them back.’’