Donors Not Reporting Blood Risks, Survey Says: Honesty Crucial to HIV-Free Supply

By Price, Joyce | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 26, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Donors Not Reporting Blood Risks, Survey Says: Honesty Crucial to HIV-Free Supply


Price, Joyce, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Nearly 2 percent of more than 34,000 active blood donors who responded to an anonymous survey acknowledged they had failed to report "deferrable risks" for HIV or other diseases when they last gave blood.

What's more, 0.4 percent of respondents in the six-year government study reported having engaged in risky behavior such as intravenous (IV) drug use or sexual relations with a "homosexually active man" or a prostitute within the three months before giving blood.

"The test [to detect HIV] has a hole. That's what's very scary," said James L. MacPherson, executive director of the 72-member Council of Community Blood Centers.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, must be in the bloodstream for up to three weeks before it can be detected, meaning that donors who give blood within the three weeks after contracting the disease could be giving tainted blood.

"It's a very small hole, but it's still a hole," said Mr. MacPherson. "We rely on honesty [from donors]."

Some donors who engaged in high-risk behavior in the three months before giving blood could have been HIV-positive when they donated and escaped detection, he said. "It shows we need to do a better job of dissuading those at risk from giving blood."

The government study said all donated blood is tested for seven infectious disease markers, including HIV antibodies, before being released for transfusion. "Our study shows that only 8.2 percent of those who reported risks were screened out by laboratory testing," the researchers wrote.

But Alan E. Williams, a senior scientist with the American Red Cross Holland Laboratory in Rockville and lead author of the government study, declined to label the findings as frightening.

"The blood supply is the safest it has ever been," he said. "In fact, the General Accounting Office recently reported that the blood supply is very safe. . . .

"However, there is a small percentage of blood donors who do not provide accurate medical and behavioral histories during donor screening for a variety of reasons, including peer pressure, misinterpretation of screening questions, denial of risk behavior and other motivations," he added. "The . . . study has given us the ability to scientifically evaluate this problem and design and assess new procedures to further protect blood safety."

Published in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study was conducted by the Retrovirus Epidemiology Donor Study (REDS) group and sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

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