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‘Ask Evan’: “Why can’t I donate blood after spending time in the military overseas?”

This week’s ‘Ask Evan’ question comes from Robert S.  Robert asks, “In reference to mad cow disease, I have a question. During my milita...

This week's 'Ask Evan' question comes from Robert S.  Robert asks, "In reference to mad cow disease, I have a question. During my military career I spent May to November 1986,  October to April 1995, and October to April 1998 on ships in the Persian Gulf.  We visited many European countries like Italy, France, Spain, etc.  When I went to donate blood around 2005 the Red Cross disqualified me for life.  The reason they said was because I was in Europe during mad cow disease outbreak.
Is this true?  I`d love to donate blood."

Yes Robert, it is true.  First, the Red Cross always wants as many donors as possible-- donating as much as possible.  However, there are guidelines in place that does restrict who can donate blood.

The Red Cross says variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease - or the human form of 'mad cow disease', is a very rare, fatal disease that can infect a person for many years before making them sick by destroying brain cells.  All blood collectors in the United States, including the American Red Cross, are required to follow the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  FDA regulations state that a person is ineligible to donate if they have visited or lived in the United Kingdom between January 1, 1980 and December 31, 1996 for a cumulative time of three months or more.

As for deferred military donors, the FDA also has a rather lengthy list of European countries and time frames that affect former or current U.S. military personnel, civilian military personnel, and their dependents who resided at U.S. Military bases in those countries in the 1980's and 1990's.

There is no test for mad cow disease that can be used to screen blood donations so the Red Cross says the best way to safeguard the blood supply is to not collect blood donations from those individuals who may have been exposed to this rare, but fatal disease.

If you have questions you'd like to ask send an email to AskEvan@FOX43.com.  Put 'Ask Evan' in the subject line.  You can also reach out on Facebook at Evan Forrester FOX43.  Whatever the topic I'll do my best to track down answers you are looking for.