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Keywords:

  • blood donors;
  • donor selection;
  • HIV;
  • transfusion-transmitted infection

Background and Objectives The Blood Services of the UK permanently de-select men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood. The rationale for this has been questioned. This article attempts to evaluate whether this selection criterion does contribute to blood safety.

Materials and Methods Data about transfusion-transmissible infections, in particular about human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, were used to evaluate whether de-selection of MSM meets the aims of donor selection. Models were constructed to estimate the risk of HIV-infectious donations entering the blood supply should this criterion be changed.

Results Many assumptions were required to generate estimates of the risk of HIV infection entering the blood supply. The accuracy of the estimates is therefore uncertain and the probable ranges around the estimates were wide. However, by using the most probable assumptions, our models suggested that de-selection of MSM for 12 months since the last sexual contact, or complete removal of this selection criterion, would be expected to increase the risk of HIV-infectious donations entering the blood supply in England by approximately 60% (from the current risk of 0·45 per year to 0·75 per year) and 500% (to 2·5 per year), respectively. The increase in numbers of non-infected donations would be relatively small – less than 2% of donations. The probability of a relatively high frequency of other sexually transmissible blood-borne infections also currently favours maintaining permanent de-selection of MSM, irrespective of the risk of HIV-infectious donations. Current compliance with this selection criteria was estimated to be 95%.

Conclusions Based on current knowledge, accepting blood donations from MSM would probably increase the risk of transfusion–transmission of HIV and of other blood-borne infections. Good compliance with this criterion has contributed greatly to the safety of blood transfusions in England. Better communication about donor selection, to maintain and improve compliance with this and other selection criteria, is recommended. Other risk groups are gaining in relative importance for the risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV infection, and ongoing evaluation of all donor-selection criteria is also recommended.