If you’re sexually active with multiple partners, your risk of catching a sexually transmitted disease (STD) increases. When donating blood, you may have to answer questions about your sexual activity and STD history. It is important to be honest on the questionnaire because your blood donation may be rejected if it doesn’t meet the outlined standards.
You may be wondering if you can give a blood donation if you've been diagnosed with an STD or had exposure to one. You can still donate blood if you've had certain STDs — but others may make you exempt.
About Blood Donations
Donating blood is important — life-saving blood transfusions are used at hospitals every day in our country. According to the CDC, 13.2 million blood donors in the U.S. give enough blood to equal 17.2 million transfusions each year.
Blood banks ask a series of questions about your health and lifestyle to determine if you are qualified to donate blood. It is important that you don’t have any diseases that may be passed to another person through a blood transfusion. If your answers don’t align with the blood donation guidelines, you won’t be able to donate.
When you donate, your blood is tested for:
- Type, such as A, B, O
- Rh type (positive or negative)
- Certain viruses and bacteria
- Certain antibodies
Restrictions for Donating Blood if you Have an STD
There are varying timelines for when you can or cannot donate blood with STDs. When in doubt, reach out to your local blood bank and ask for their specific guidelines. You should not donate blood if you suspect you may have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV), or hepatitis.
You can never donate blood if you:
- Are HIV positive or receiving HIV treatment
- Are HTLV positive
- Are a carrier of Hepatitis B or C
The American Red Cross says you should not donate if you have done any of the following in the past three months:
- Were a sex worker
- Are a man and had sex with another man
- Had sexual contact with anyone who meets the above-listed criteria
- Injected recreational drugs
- Had a sex partner who is HIV or HTLV positive, a carrier of hepatitis B or C, or a partner who has injected drugs not prescribed by a doctor
- Took Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) or Truvada for preventing HIV
If you contracted syphilis or gonorrhea, wait three months following completion of your treatment to donate blood. If you have chlamydia, HPV, or genital herpes, you can still donate blood if you meet the other eligibility requirements.
Symptoms of STDs
STDs may be transmitted through any form of sexual activity, including oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse or genitals touching. Some STDs don’t have physical symptoms, and others do. Some are easy to treat, and others are a lifelong health condition.
If an STD goes without treatment, you’re more likely to get other STDs. They may also cause organ damage, infertility, cancer, or death if you don't get treatment. It is important to recognize the signs of STDs.
If you are sexually active, it's also important to get tested for STDs on a regular basis.
Chlamydia. This is a bacterial infection affecting your genital tract. At first, you may not have symptoms. After a few weeks, your symptoms may include:
- Pain during urination
- Lower abdominal pain
- Vaginal or penile discharge
- Pain during sex
- Abnormal bleeding
Gonorrhea. This is also a bacterial infection affecting your genital tract. Gonorrhea may also grow in your mouth, throat, eyes, and anus. You may not have symptoms right away if you get this STD. First symptoms usually appear around ten days following exposure and may include:
- Discharge that is thick, cloudy, or bloody
- Pain or burning during urination
- Heavy bleeding for women
- Painful testicles that may be swollen
- Pain during bowel movements
- Itching around your anus
Trichomoniasis. This disease is a microscopic parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. This organism spreads during sexual intercourse with someone who already has the infection. Symptoms appear within five to 28 days and may include:
- Discharge that may be white, clear, green, or yellow
- Strong odor
- Itching and irritation
- Pain during urination or sex
HIV. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It compromises your immune system by lessening your ability to fight off viruses, bacteria, and fungi that cause illness. If left untreated it can lead to AIDS, a life-threatening health condition with no cure. Two to six weeks after infection you may have flu-like symptoms, which can include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
If left untreated, HIV may worsen and include symptoms like:
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Chronic diarrhea
Genital herpes. Most herpes infections show few or no symptoms, so they go unnoticed and untreated. Herpes may develop into a skin condition that includes symptoms like:
- Small red bumps, blisters, or open sores in your genital or anal area
- Pain and itching around your genitals, buttocks, and inner thighs
- Flu-like symptoms like headache, fever, and chills
Keep in mind that even when sores are not visible, you may still be contagious.
Human papillomavirus (HPV). This infection may have no symptoms at all or may cause genital warts. Some types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer. It is possible to be a carrier and never show any symptoms. However, signs you have HPV may include:
- Small, flesh-colored or gray growths around your genitals
- Warts on or around your genitals that look like cauliflower
- Itching or discomfort
- Bleeding during sex
Hepatitis. Hepatitis A, B, and C are viral infections affecting your liver. Symptoms can range from mild to very serious and can include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain, especially near your liver
- Lack of appetite
- Dark urine
- Painful muscles or joints
Syphilis. This is a bacterial infection affecting the genitals along with other parts of your body, including your skin, brain, and heart. It typically starts with a sore where the infection started. Worsening symptoms may include:
- Rash of large sores all over your body
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Fatigue and discomfort
- Soreness and aches
If left untreated, later signs of syphilis may include:
- Loss of coordination
- Numbness or paralysis
Condoms can help prevent the transmission of some STDs. However, no method is 100% effective aside from abstaining from sex. If you think you have an STD, stop all sexual contact and talk to your doctor immediately so you can receive treatment.