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Ask the Doc

March 2012 • Published in The Daily Press, Ashland WI

Q: I’m planning a Spring Break vacation with my family. We will be traveling through both Costa Rica and Panama. The last time I donated, I was told I would not be able to donate again once I returned from my trip, that I would be “deferred”. What does that mean? And how is it determined which donors are deferred and for how long?

A: You’ve already helped save lives in our community with your past donations and we are very grateful for the generous gifts you’ve given. While you may be temporarily deferred from donating immediately upon your return, given your specific travel plans, we will warmly welcome you back whenever you are eligible again.

The term “deferred” refers to individuals disqualified from donating blood, which can happen at any point during the collection and testing process. Whether a person is deferred temporarily or indefinitely depends on the specific reason for disqualification. For example, a person may be deferred temporarily because of anemia, a condition that is usually reversible. Once the condition returns to normal donors may return to donate. On the other hand, certain high-risk behaviors or non-prescribed drug use can result in an indefinite deferral, disqualifying a donor from ever giving blood again.

Like all blood collection agencies in the U.S., Memorial Blood Centers incorporates regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish guidelines that govern eligibility for blood donation. This is to ensure the safety and reliability of the blood supply as well as the comfort and safety of the donors who give. Particularly when it comes to travel restrictions that we may place on donor eligibility, we also follow guidelines and recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC regularly issues alerts and updates on incidences of such diseases as malaria, yellow fever, cholera, HIV, H1N1, and dozens of other conditions found in over 200 different countries around the world. As you can imagine, the status of outbreaks and risk of exposure to any number of these diseases is continually changing.

Even when traveling to the same country your eligibility for future blood donations can be affected by the specific region or regions through which you travel. In Panama, for example, there may not be a risk of malaria in Panama City, which could temporarily defer you from donating, but there may be a risk of exposure if you traveled outside of the Canal Zone. In addition, the CDC may issue new information tomorrow that would alter what we know today.

So in the end, the best advice is travel safely. Enjoy your vacation. And when you return, call us. Let us help you determine your eligibility for future donations based on your exact travel destinations. To verify eligibility or for detailed information about safety restrictions governing blood donations, please talk with one of our Memorial Blood Centers experts at 1-888-GIVE-BLD (888-448-3253).

In the meantime, the need for blood to help save lives is constant. And all eligible blood donors are encouraged to schedule an appointment online at or call 1-888-448-3253 to make a blood donation at one of the following community blood drives:

March 8 8:00 am to 4:00 pm
UMD Kirby Student Center
1120 Kirby Drive
Use Sponsor Code 2094 to register online

March 12 10:00 am to 5:30 pm
Hickman Chiropractic
400 East Lakeshore Drive
Use Sponsor Code 2231 to register online or call (715) 682-5656

March 13 9:00 am to 1:00 pm
M&I Bank
100 Main Street East
Use Sponsor Code 2240 to register online or call (715) 682-3422

Jed Gorlin, M.D. is Medical Director and Vice President, Medical and Quality Affairs for Memorial Blood Centers. Elizabeth Perry, M.D. is Associate Medical Director for Memorial Blood Centers.

Send us your questions at Call us today 1-888-GIVE-BLD (888-448-3253) to schedule an appointment, or to find out more about Memorial Blood Centers and how we partner with the Ashland community to save lives.