IMAGE DESCRIPTION: An image of a person giving blood with two other images in circles; one of bags of blood and another of blood with an image of Covid spike proteins. The title reads: Blood donation, ME/CFS and Long Covid. The ME Association logo (bottom right)

Blood Donation: ME/CFS and Long Covid

Blood donation is a common voluntary procedure that can help save people’s lives. However, there are some reasons and conditions that prevent people from donating blood including ME/CFS and Long Covid. According to the NHS Blood and Transplant website, it says: 

To donate blood, you will need to: 

  • be generally fit and well. 
  • be aged between 17 and 65. 
  • weigh between 7 stone 12 lbs (50kg) and 25 stone (158kg). 
  • have suitable veins (we will check these before you donate). 
  • meet all donor eligibility criteria (we will check this with you before you donate). 

You can't donate blood if you: 

  • have had most types of cancer. 
  • have some heart conditions. 
  • have received blood, platelets, plasma or any other blood products after 1 January 1980. 
  • have tested positive for HIV. 
  • have had an organ transplant. 
  • are a hepatitis B carrier. 
  • are a hepatitis C carrier. 
  • have injected non-prescribed drugs including body-building and injectable tanning agents.  

Why people with ME/CFS cannot donate blood   

In November 2010, anyone who had or did previously have ME/CFS was excluded from giving blood in the UK.

This was after the ME Association wrote to Dame Sally Davies – the then Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health – to highlight the possible risk of a retroviral infection known as XMRV being transmitted by blood. In his letter, Dr Shepherd referred to the fact that XMRV was being considered as a possible cause of ME/CFS at this time. After XMRV had been disproven as being a cause of ME/CFS, the NHS Blood and Transfusion service decided that the ban would remain. This was primarily because of donor safety given the amount of blood loss involved during blood donation which could exacerbate ME/CFS.

The ME Association Information Leaflet

“Over ten years ago (2010), the Department of Health announced their intention to permanently exclude people with ME/CFS from giving blood in the UK. Other countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, followed suit. The ruling was made on the grounds of donor safety.  

“ME/CFS is a relapsing condition which often starts with an infection, may be complicated by reactivation of other viral infections, and also involves immune system dysfunction. A second reason for excluding people suffering from ME/CFS was to protect their own health – as an acute loss of blood could cause an exacerbation of symptoms. 

“The situation remains the same. Blood donation cannot be accepted from people with ME/ CFS, even if you are currently well. If you have had ME/CFS, even if you are now fully recovered, blood donation is not an option.” 

Source: Blood and Organ Donation | ME Association

Long Covid and Post-Viral Fatigue Syndromes 

The NHS Blood and Transplant service has included Long Covid and Post-Viral Fatigue syndromes (PVFS) to the list of conditions prevented from giving blood. As with ME/CFS this is on the grounds of donor safety and because we don’t yet know if the cause of these conditions and if any disease process might affect the blood and be a risk for people who receive donated blood or blood products. 

The ME Association comment

 Dr Charles Shepherd, Honorary Medical Adviser says: 

“The reasons regarding the ban on people with Long Covid giving blood donations are very sensible in the current situation – as there is some evidence that people with this condition have a persisting viral infection which could be passed on to others who might receive donated blood or blood products.

“Until we know more about the cause and perpetuation of Long Covid, the ban on blood donations should continue – just as it should in ME/CFS and PVFS. The same concerns exist for donor safety in both conditions where giving blood could result in an exacerbation of symptoms.”

“However, in relation to people with ME/CFS who have fully recovered and have remained well for a period of at least two years, I think there is a case to allow them to donate blood”

Dr Charles Shepherd,
Trustee and
Hon. Medical Adviser
to the ME Association.
Member of the 2018-2021 NICE Guideline Committee.
Member of the 2002 Independent Working Group on ME/CFS.

Dr Charles Shepherd
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