Questions and answers about blood donation and men who have had sex with another man
No. Any man who answers yes to the question “Have you had sex with another man, even once, since 1977?” is permanently excluded from giving blood.
This blood donor selection criterion was added in the early 1980s in most industrialized countries when it came to light that sex between men was a major mode of transmission of HIV and when methods to detect the virus were not available.
Yes, to the extent that they meet the other donor eligibility criteria. See Record of Donation.
Men who have had sex with another man are at higher risk for HIV than the general population.The prevalence of HIV is still much higher among homosexual men than in the general population. HIV prevalence is over 10% in this group compared to well below 1% among heterosexuals or lesbians.
Yes, every blood donation is tested and qualified. To learn more, see safety measures.
If all blood donations are tested, why are men who have had sex with another man excluded from giving blood?
Remember that sex can contribute to the propagation of viruses that may be transmitted to other individuals through blood transfusions. Héma-Québec uses a range of very rigorous screening tests. In spite of the high performance of these tests, the risk of an infected blood donation going undetected, however slight, is not zero because of the sensitivity limitations of the tests. Hence, in spite of the use of screening tests, we exclude donors at high risk of infections that might be transmitted through blood.
There is a period of risk (called the “silent period” or “window period”) during which, even if a person feels healthy and the screening tests for HIV and Hepatitis B and C are negative, shecan be infected and can transmit these viruses to the recipient of that blood.
Based on recent scientific data and advances in transfusion safety, Héma-Québec supports lifting the current permanent exclusion and, in its place, applying a temporary exclusion period of five years to men who have or have had sex with another man.
The safety of the blood supply is our foremost concern. The Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada, which was held following the tainted blood scandal, recommended that the principle of safety must prevail over other principles and policies. An inherent truth about a blood supply system is the possible emergence — at any time — of new pathogens (i.e. viruses, bacteria) that can be transmitted through blood. This reality dictates that new blood donation screening tests be developed and deployed, a process that takes time. Héma-Québec estimates that a period of five years would be sufficient to address the situation.
Health Canada is the agency that sets the national standards that Héma-Québec must apply. Héma-Québec cannot unilaterally change the criteria that are applied to ensure the safety of the blood supply, including the question asked of men regarding their sexual relations with one or more men.
Health Canada’s current position is to maintain the lifetime exclusion of men who have or have had sex with another man.
In December 2012, Héma-Québec submitted a request to Health Canada for permission to reduce the exclusion period to five years. As is the case for most changes involving the safety of blood products, it will take several weeks to obtain a response to this request. In the event that Health Canada's response is favourable, and only on that condition, Héma-Québec may then proceed with such a change. In the mean time, the current policy shall apply in its entirety.