(CNSNews.com) – In a statement issued two days before Christmas, Food and Drug Administrator (FDA) Margaret Hamburg said the agency charged with protecting public health will “take the necessary steps” to lift the ban on homosexual or bisexual men donating blood, a ban that has been in place since 1977 because of the high rate of HIV infection among these men.
In addition, according to the CDC, men who have sex with men (MSM) have much higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis compared to heterosexual men.
“Over the past several years, in collaboration with other government agencies, the FDA has carefully examined and considered the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men, including the results of several recently completed scientific studies and recent epidemiologic data,” Hamburg said in the Dec. 23 statement.
“Following this review, and taking into account the recommendations of advisory committees to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA, the agency will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact,” said Hamburg.
No links are provided to the studies and epidemiologic data that Hamburg refers to in her statement.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, men having sex with men are at highest risk for getting HIV and represent the largest number of new infections, as well as the higher syphilis rates and higher rates of drug use.
“Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) represent approximately 2% of the United States population, yet are the population most severely affected by HIV,” the CDC states on its website.
“In 2010, young gay and bisexual men (aged 13-24 years) accounted for 72% of new HIV infections among all persons aged 13 to 24, and 30% of new infections among all gay and bisexual men,” said the agency.
“At the end of 2011, an estimated 500,022 (57%) persons living with an HIV diagnosis in the United States were gay and bisexual men, or gay and bisexual men who also inject drugs,” the CDC said.
Hamburg also announced that the public will be allowed time to comment on this plan.
“The FDA intends to issue a draft guidance recommending this proposed change in policy in 2015, which will also include an opportunity for public comment,” Hamburg said. “We encourage all stakeholders to take this opportunity to provide any information the agency should consider, and look forward to receiving and reviewing these comments.”
Among those who have already spoken out against allowing blood donations from gay or bisexual men is Peter Sprigg, senior fellow at the Family Research Council. In 2010, Sprigg testified before HHS’s Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety, which recommended at that time that the ban stay in place.
On Dec. 5, Sprigg testified before another federal advisory committee to repeat his opposition to lifting the ban because it would represent a threat to public safety.
"There is no question that the use of donated blood tainted with HIV would be a threat to public safety,” Sprigg said. “There is also no question that men who have sex with men are at a much greater risk of being infected with HIV.
“While there is also no question that we have made tremendous advances in the treatment of HIV infection, advances in the prevention of high-risk behaviors have lagged behind,” Sprigg said, citing the aforementioned CDC statistics.
"No reasonable concept of social justice requires expanding the pool of potential blood donors,” Sprigg said. “On the contrary, social justice requires that only the needs of potential blood recipients be considered at all; and it requires that national policy ensure the maximum level of safety that is consistent with maintaining an adequate blood supply.”
According to the CDC, “For all men, the leading causes of death are heart disease and cancer. However, among men who have sex with men (MSM), there are higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), tobacco and drug use, and depression compared to other men.”
“[G]ay and bisexual men account for over half of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S. and two thirds of all new HIV infections each year,” says the CDC. “In 2012, 75% of the reported syphilis cases were among men who have sex with men.”
“The large percentage of gay and bisexual men with HIV and STDs means that, as a group, they have an increased chance of being exposed to these diseases,” said the CDC. “And too many men are unaware of their status, which means they do not get medical care and are at increased risk of unknowingly transmitting these diseases to sexual partners.”
The CDC further says: “All gay and bisexual men should be tested at least annually for common STDs. The only way to know your STD status is to get tested (you can search for a testing site). Having an STD (like gonorrhea) makes it easier to get HIV, so it's important to get tested to protect your health and the health of your partner. CDC recommends sexually active gay and bisexual men test for:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C (among gay men born from 1945 to 1965 or with risk behaviors)
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea of the rectum if you’ve had receptive anal sex, or been a 'bottom' in the past year;
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea of the penis (urethra) if you have had insertive anal or oral sex in the past year;
- Gonorrhea of the throat if you’ve performed oral sex (i.e., your mouth on your partner’s penis, vagina, or anus) in the past year;
- And sometimes your health care provider may suggest a herpes blood test."
“Gay and bisexual men who have multiple or anonymous partners should be screened more frequently for STDs (i.e., at 3-to-6 month intervals)," the CDC continued. "Talk with your provider about getting vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, and HPV.”