Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Can You Donate Plasma if You're Anemic?

Q: Can I donate plasma with iron-deficiency anemia? I keep going back to the plasma center, and the nurses keep denying me for having low iron levels in my blood. They said one more deferral and I'd be permanently banned from donating plasma. Thanks.

Answer: No, you can't donate plasma when you have (temporary) iron-deficient anemia. Normal iron levels in blood range between 60 mcg/dL and 170 mcg/dL - you can't be lower or higher than that.

If you have an iron level lower than 60 mcg (which they test for when they prick your finger), you'll be deferred from donating plasma for 1 day. If you continue to have low iron counts, you might have an underlying condition, like a hernia or untreated internal bleeding from an ulcer, so get it treated before you're permanently banned and can't donate plasma.

You can raise your iron levels to donate plasma by:

  • Taking 2 iron tablets in the morning before donating
  • Doing aerobic exercises (which increase red blood cell flow and help iron absorption)
  • Eating broccoli, kale, spinach, watercress, or other leafy vegetables
  • Eating dark purple fruits, like raisins, eggplant, and prunes
  • Eating black beans, or mixing black beans with other foods
  • Getting checked for chronic bleeding conditions

Causes and Symptoms of Iron-Count Anemia

While other forms of anemia, like sickle cell and B12 deficiency exist, iron anemia is the most common blood disorder. It causes symptoms such as:

  • Pale skin
  • Shaking
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Stomach cramping

Why Can't I Donate My Plasma?

You can't donate plasma with low iron because iron is needed to create hemoglobin, and bind oxygen to red blood cells. Without this vital oxygen, you may get fatigued, or even pass out while donating blood plasma. If you keep having chronic anemia, go to your doctor to check for internal hemorrhaging or other bleeding disorders.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Can you donate plasma if you're under 18 years old?

Q: Can you donate plasma if you're under 18? My brother is 16, and he wants to go with me to the plasma center. Thanks.

A: Generally no, you can't donate plasma if you're under 18 years old. The Food and Drug Administration oversees plasma donations. Their rules are:

  • You must be 18
  • You can't have cold, flu, or respiratory infection when you donate
  • You can't have certain STDs (like HIV, or Hepatitis)
  • You have to be in generally good health
  • You have to weigh 110 pounds or more

There are some exceptions, though, and I'll list them below based on the donation age:

14 And Under

Sorry, you can't donate plasma. Even if you look older, you can't like on the plasma donation test, either, because plasma centers will ask you for and original copy of your SSN and ID card.

Age 14

There's one state that allows plasma donors to donate at age 14 and older - and that's TX. Texas state legislature stated in 2009 that 14 year olds can donate plasma with an accompanying guardian present, and express written permission from the parents or guardian. But you must weigh over 110 pounds - this minimum weight is another rule for donating plasma.

Age 15

You're getting closer! At age 15, you can donate plasma (with permission from their parents of course) in TX, HI, MI, CO, and UT. 

Age 16 

In addition to the above states, minors 16 and older can donate plasma (again, with parental guardian permission) in IL, WY, MT, VI, OH, VT, NC, SC, and RI.

Age 17

Most states (excluding MD, NY, and FL) allow 17 year olds to donate without written permission within 3 months of turning 18 years old. Before age 17 and 3/4, though, you still need your parents to sign your permission slip.

Still, even if you're 17, plasma centers (like CSL) can make their own rules about minors being allowed to donate or not, so call first.

Age 18

Yes, you've finally made it! Since you're not a minor anymore, you can donate plasma freely, right?

But believe it or not, there's one state - Georgia - that won't let you donate plasma until you're 21 years old. The reasons are unclear (perhaps donating plasma is immoral for 18-20 year olds?) But nonetheless, rules are rules. If you live in Georgia, turned 18, and want to donate plasma, consider moving to Alabama or Florida (or really, any other state) that has more sensible plasma donation policies.

Can You Donate Plasma With an STD?

Current FDA regulations state that donors must be in general good health, over 18 years old, and free of blood-borne infections and illnesses to donate plasma. This means that donors can't donate with active cases of STD's like gonorrhea, HIV/AIDS, and syphilis.

You can donate plasma with certain other STD's, though. This is what plasma regulations say about the most commonly spread infections:


Symptoms Include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increase or appearance of night sweats
  • Increase vulnerability to infection
  • Purple "bags" or bruising under the eyes
  • Extreme unexplained fatigue lasting more than 2 weeks

HIV  is the most serious, terminal STD. HIV antibodies take 6 weeks to form, so you can't donate plasma if you've been in situations that put you risk of contracting AIDS.

You can't donate plasma if you've ever your "services" for money, taken illicit drugs, are a male who has had contact with another male (even once), have visited high risk countries (like parts of Europe and Africa) for more than 3 months, or been in lockup/jail for 72 hours.

Additionally, you must wait for 6 months after getting a tattoo or peircing to donate plasma - no matter how reputable your tattoo joint. If you ever contract AIDS or HIV, you are permanently deferred from donating plasma and blood.

To check your status on the permanent donor deferral list, click here.

Herpes: Yes.

Symptoms Include:

  • Tingling, itching, or burning of the mouth or genitals
  • Appearance of albumin-filled blisters
  • Problems passing urine
  • Symptoms similar to pink-eye (herpes keratitis)

You can donate plasma with a herpes infection. More than 80% of US adults are infected with some strain of the herpes simplex virus. Because the herpes virus lies dormant in skin cell nuclei - not the blood - FDA regulations state that even actively infected herpes patients may donate plasma at no risk to themselves or others.

However, plasma donation robs your body of precious proteins needed to fight infection. So put off plasma donation after your outbreak is finished, or you risk prolonging the infection.

Hepatitis A: Yes, kind of.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease which is transmitted from infected persons or unsafe drinking water. Unlike B and C, hepatitis A is not chronic, and symptoms usually disappear within a month.

You can donate plasma if you had hepatitis A before the age of 11, and were since cured of the disease. The reasoning is that the virus lays dormant in a potential donor's blood for 7 years, after which it dissipates. Since nobody under age 18 can donate plasma, all legal donors 18 and above should be clear of active hepatitis A cases for 7 years.

If you were infected with Hep A at age 12 (seriously, what were you doing??) or older, talk to your local donation center. There are no federal regulations on hepatitis positive plasma donors, so plasma banks make their own sets of rules.

Hepatitis B: Yes, Definitely!

Unlike Hep A, hepatitis B is chronic, meaning it never fully goes away - after about a year, however, patients do stop experiencing symptoms. 

But as far as plasma donation goes, being hepatitis B infected is a good thing! If you have ever been infected with this strain of hepatitis, your may have the minimum number of antibodies in your blood required to make life-saving hepatitis B vaccines.

Here's how it works:
  1. You must have been free of outbreaks for at least 1 year.
  2. You must inform the plasma center that you're hep B positive.
  3. The blood bank or center will test your blood's per/ML level of antibodies.
  4. If you qualify, you will be invited to the elite hepatitis B donor program.
  5. After this, you'll receive anti-B shots each week.
  6. Your blood will be tested monthly, to ensure it still contains the minimum number of required antibodies. 
 So, will I get more money for this? Unfortunately, no. You'll still receive the standard donor's pay. However, the plasma center will get more for your plasma. Normally, plasma centers receive $1,000 or more for each bottle of plasma turned into medicine. Hep B vaccine plasma, however, can fetch more than $4,000 per bottle.

You will get the satisfaction of saving lives by creating a necessary vaccine though. And in the end, isn't that enough?

Hepatitis C: No.

Symptoms include:

  • Severe stomach pain
  • Joint pain
  • All-over itchiness
  • Swollen stomach
  • Brown or dark colored urine
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Trouble passing urine

It is spread through contact with bodily fluids, via sharing needles, or in babies, drinking infected breast milk.

Unlike the virus strains HAV and HBV, HCV (hepatitis C) is directly fatal. It kills up to 30% of infected patients through complications like cirrhosis or hepatitis induced liver cancer.

Also, unlike hepatitis B, there is no vaccine. Because of the fatal, highly infection nature of hepatitis C, and the lack of a vaccine, HepC STD patients can't legally donate plasma.

Cold Sore: Yes.

You can donate plasma with a cold sore on your lip - as long as you're treating it with visible white herpes simplex cream, or the sore has already crusted or dried over.

Why can't you donate with an active cold sore infection? Cross-contamination. With an active cold sore, there's a chance (however small) that you or a nurse might come in contact with your lip, then touch the donor site.

This would contaminate the plasma supply, and risk infection of the plasma recipients.

In other words: just stay home with your active cold sore, and you can donate plasma in 1-2 days or a week when it clears up.

Gonorrhea and Syphillis: Yes.  

Plasma centers don't test your blood for these STD's during the screening (like they do with HIV, and hepatitis B and C) - you're on the honor system to tell them.

So if you know you have the clap, please don't go and infect innocent people getting plasma therapy.

You can donate plasma once your syphilis has been successfully treated with bacterial antibiotics, however, and 12 months has passed since your infection.

Chlamydia: Yes.

Symptoms of this STD include:

  • Burning or discolored urine
  • Trouble passing urine
  • Yellowish-green discharge (in both men and women)
  • Sharp lower abdominal pain
  • Stomach tenderness and queasiness
  • Sudden male testicle pain

You cannot donate plasma with an active case of chlamydia. But you can donate if you've been treated for the disease with a 7 day course of oral antibiotics (like penicillin or amoxicillin), and have been clear of flare ups for 60 days. 

The 60 day waiting period is required by ZLB plasma. But check with your local center, because some places, like CSL plasma, require donors to be free of transmitted infections for at least 6 months.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (Endometritis): Yes.

Symptoms Include: 

  • Dull abdominal pain (mild cases)
  • Inflammation (confirmed through ultrasound) of the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or uterus
  • General sense of unease
  • Yellowish or burning discharge
  • Infertility (extreme cases)

Pelvic inflammatory disease isn't an STD itself. It's caused by bacteria entering the cervix from untreated cases of other STD's, like gonorrhea and chlamydia. It can also last chronically, long after the bacterial STD's are cured.

Because PID isn't a blood-borne virus, women with pelvic inflammatory disease are allowed to donate plasma with no restrictions. However, plasma donation causes dehydration, which makes abdominal cramping worse, so if you're suffering from PID, drink plenty of water before you do donate.

Genital Warts: Yes.

Gential warts are caused by untreated strains of HPV. They can appear on the nether regions, hands, feet, or even lead to facial warts. Because the strain of HPV that causes warts is spread by skin-skin contact (not through blood, saliva, or other bodily fluids) people with this common STD can donate plasma.

HPV (Human Papillomavirus): Yes.

HPV infects over 90% of intimately active adults. It causes symptoms such as genital or facial warts, abnormal cervical growths, and cancer. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to get a Human Papillomavirus vaccine before becoming active.

What if you're already infected? Can you donate plasma? Yes, you can donate plasma. HPV is a skin-central retrovirus, and doesn't travel through the blood. Therefore, HPV patients are welcome to donate blood or plasma at any time.
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