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Safe blood requires strict, and detailed, standards

by Ashley Thompson

In last week’s column, several people living in Japan explained that whether they were able to donate blood was primarily determined by health or safety concerns rather than Japanese language ability, which we originally discussed in our April 3 column, “Less-than-fluent foreigners may have trouble giving blood.”

In response to Lou, who wrote in to tell us that this type of screening is typical and “key to insuring the safety of the blood supply,” that was precisely the point. The anecdotes in last week’s column were shared to illustrate the fact that while some blood donation centers in Japan might turn a foreigner away because they can’t speak Japanese fluently enough, others only do so because of legitimate health or safety reasons, as is common around the world.

As promised last week, let’s look at some of the Japan Red Cross Society’s blood donation rules.

First of all, you can’t donate blood if you’re extremely hungry or severely sleep-deprived. Having a fever — specifically, one degree above normal or higher — or any medicine allergies will also disqualify you. You must wait four weeks after entering or re-entering Japan before giving blood.

Regarding medications, you are ineligible to donate if you’re currently taking oral prescriptions other than vitamins or certain generic digestive medicines that have no harmful side-effects. Otherwise, the doctor on duty will decide whether any medications you are currently using are safe or not.

As for vaccinations, if you receive an inactive vaccine for the following diseases, you must wait at least 24 hours before donating blood: influenza, Japanese encephalitis, cholera, hepatitis A, pneumonia, whooping cough (pertussis) and tetanus.

Additionally, you must wait a specified period of time after receiving the following vaccines or treatments: hepatitis B, mumps, rubella and BCG (the mildly active (live) vaccine against tuberculosis) (four weeks); smallpox (two months); antiserum for tetanus, snakebites or other poison, gas gangrene or botulinus (three months); administration of anti-hepatitis B human immunoglobulin, by itself or in combination with something else (one year); a rabies jab after being bitten by an animal (one year).

As would be expected, some medical conditions will also disqualify you from being a donor. Those with asthma, a malignant tumor, heart disease, nephrotic syndrome or a blood disease such as anemia or leukemia cannot donate. You are also ineligible if you have rheumatic fever or are taking penicillin (antibiotics) to prevent it, have a history of convulsions, have suffered a stroke, are HIV-positive or are infected with hepatitis B or C.

Those who have had hepatitis A or E can give blood six months after finishing treatment. If someone in your family contracts hepatitis A or E you must wait a month before donating.

If you have ever received a blood transfusion or organ transplant you are not eligible to donate blood in Japan.

Concerning lifestyle and life events, there are a few things that can affect your ability to donate. If you’ve had dental work done that caused bleeding, such as scaling, you have to wait three days before donating blood. You must wait six months if you get a tattoo, and at least one month if a piercing was done at a medical institution or with a disposable device. Any piercings of the lips, tongue, nose or anywhere with mucous membranes will make you ineligible to donate.

You are also not able to give blood if within the last six months you have had sexual relations with an anonymous or new partner, if you’re male and have had sex with another man, used a stimulant or narcotic (psychoactive drugs), tested positive for AIDS or have had sexual relations with anyone who falls into the previous four categories.

If you are pregnant, you must wait until six months after giving birth or having an abortion to donate, or if you breastfeed, one year after giving birth.

In regards to overseas travel and parasitic diseases, if you have visited a country with a high malaria risk, you must defer donating blood for one year unless you have tested negative for the disease. If you lived in a country with a high malaria risk, you must wait three years after leaving to donate, unless you have tested negative for it.

If you have lived somewhere known for Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis), such as Central/South America, you are ineligible. You are also disqualified if you recently returned from Africa or lived in Africa and have tested positive for African sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis).

Testing positive for babesiosis means you can’t donate blood, as does any experience doing medical work, fieldwork or research in regions with known parasitic blood diseases.

Finally, as some people mentioned in last week’s column, living in certain areas affected by Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) during a specified period of time will make you ineligible to donate. Much is still unknown about the transmission of CJD through blood transfusions and its relationship with BSE, or “mad cow disease,” as many know it. Therefore, the following people are not allowed to donate blood: a) If you have CJD; b) if you lived in the U.K. between 1980 and 1996 for a total of one month (31 days) or more; c) if you lived in Britain between 1997 and 2004 for six months or more; d) if you lived in Ireland, Italy, Holland, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, or Portugal from 1980 to 2004 for six months or longer; e) if you lived in Switzerland from 1980 until the current date for six months or more; f) if you lived in Austria, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, or Luxembourg from 1980 to 2004 for five months or more; g) if you lived in any other European country from 1980 until the current date for five years or longer.

The above rules were translated from the Japan Red Cross Society’s website (only in Japanese), which you can find here: www.jrc.or.jp/donation/refrain/index.html.

Ashley Thompson writes unique how-tos about living in Japan at www.survivingnjapan.com. Thanks to David Thompson for his translation assistance. Send queries to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp