Why don't tattooed people donate blood?

1000 donations, a thousand thanks Who is allowed to donate blood and who is not?

People who need blood are usually sick or seriously injured and therefore weakened. It is all the more important that you do not expose yourself to any danger from donated blood. This happened, for example, in the late 1980s when many recipients became infected with HIV. To ensure that blood donations are safe, the “Guideline on the Collection of Blood and Blood Components and the Use of Blood Products” regulates how blood is handled - and who is allowed to donate at all.

Age differences

In principle, every healthy person is allowed to donate blood. That means you have to be over 18 years old and weigh over 50 kilograms. Up to when you can donate, however, differs. At the German Red Cross (DRK) you can donate up to 72 years of age, the Uni.Blood Donation Service OWL allows donors up to 68 years of age. However, first-time donors must not be older than 65. And of course there are health criteria that exclude people as donors. Anyone suffering from a chronic disease is excluded for life. For example, anyone who is ill - even "just" with a cold - is not allowed to donate.

Retention periods

It also excludes anyone who has a particularly high risk of contracting HIV. Sex workers or people with frequently changing sexual partners are to be "deferred from donation for 12 months", according to the official guidelines. Homosexual men are also not allowed to have sex for 12 months before donating blood. This is justified by the fact that "sexual intercourse between men is associated with a particularly high risk of HIV transmission." Figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) show that around two thirds of new infections with HIV in men who have sex with men (MSM). However, the number of HIV infections has declined overall in recent years, in the group of so-called "MSM" between 2013 and 2018 by as much as 27 percent.

There is also a retention period after the appointment with the tattoo artist or piercer. After the sting, blood donors have to wait four months to be re-admitted. This is to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases such as hepatitis B or C to the recipient, which cannot be detected immediately after infection.

Discrimination or Risk Mitigation?

Doctors are increasingly realizing that many perceive the regulations as unfair, says Prof. Dr. Reinhard Henschler from the Institute for Transfusion Medicine in Leipzig. "There is now more and more social consensus in the western world that belonging to a social group must not be the basis for different treatment, and that this also applies to blood donations." Rather, the individual risk behavior of the individual must be considered. This is determined with every donation with a questionnaire. The trade-off between equal treatment and the risk for the recipient is not always easy:

Because you want to do everything to ensure that blood from a donor at risk cannot be used for a transfusion, for example for a newborn child.

Fewer donors, more needs

In Germany, 15,000 blood products are needed every day, for example for operations or for cancer treatment. But the number of donors is falling. The number of blood donors in Germany has been falling continuously since 2010. In 2010 there were 92 blood donors per 1,000 inhabitants, in 2018 it was only 78 per 1,000 inhabitants. Wouldn't it be important to have as many potential donors as possible?

Hygiene and tattooing

That is the reason why the tattoo scene also appeals time and again to make blood donation more accessible for tattooed people. Disposable materials, the safer manufacture of tattoo inks and a higher level of hygiene awareness among tattoo artists have ensured overall improved hygienic conditions for tattooing. This minimizes the risk of infection when stinging, according to the Bundesverband Tattoo e.V.

Tattooed people do not have an increased risk of getting an infection in their free time, says their expert Dr. Mark Benecke. And: "Blood samples are examined before they are used anyway, since no blood donor can safely rule out infections without a test." Accordingly, the point of a deferral period disappears after tattooing.

In case of doubt for the patient

If the hygienic conditions for tattooing were right, the waiting time until blood donation could actually be reduced, says Prof. Dr. Henschler in an interview with "The main thing is healthy". The problem: When a tattooed person goes to donate blood, the doctor on site has a hard time understanding whether sterile disposable materials were used for the lancing.

Here, too, one is jointly responsible for the recipient of the blood. In case of doubt, the protection of the patient - who receives the blood supply - comes first.

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Henschler from the Institute for Transfusion Medicine in Leipzig