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Can You Donate Blood If You Have Herpes? Risks and Considerations

Most people think of herpes as an STD (sexually transmitted disease), but you don’t need to have sex to contract this virus. You can contract herpes through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus, especially if you touch a herpes sore. Herpes can also spread via utensils, lip balms, and other items that have touched the sores of an infected person.

Herpes is so common that over half of the U.S. population carries the virus, and one out of six of those carriers has genital herpes. The virus can stay in the human body for life, but it is not life-threatening. However, it can be frustrating and embarrassing, especially when it causes visible sores around the mouth or genitals.

Can you donate blood if you have herpes?

The right answer to this question depends on various factors, such as if you recently had intercourse with a genital herpes carrier or if you have visible herpes symptoms. Before delving more deeply into whether you can donate blood if you have herpes, let’s look at the symptoms and types of herpes.

Signs and Symptoms of Herpes

Depending on your immune system and the herpes strain you contract, you may not notice any herpes symptoms. In fact, some people’s herpes symptoms are so mild they think it’s pimples or the flu.

For example, if you catch oral herpes, you won’t feel sick, but you may develop cold sores or fever blisters around your mouth or on the lips. Sores may also appear inside your mouth.

Having herpes sores as an adult or child can be upsetting, but the sores are typically harmless. However, on newborn babies, these sores can prove deadly. Cold sores on adults may last for a few weeks before fading on their own. They may pop up again every other week or month, especially during periods of stress.

According to the Mayo Clinic, genital herpes symptoms are more severe than oral herpes symptoms. The symptoms may include:

  • Itchy or painful blisters around the penis, scrotum, vulva, cervix, vagina, anus, or inner thighs
  • Burning or painful urination
  • Lower back or leg pain
  • Trouble peeing due to sores blocking the urethra

Patients with genital herpes caused by HSV-2 may also experience:

  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Swollen glands in the throat, pelvic area, or under the arms
  • Lethargy
  • Body ache

Genital herpes symptoms typically manifest 2 to 20 days after the initial infection. The first sore outbreak may last for two to four weeks. Also, according to WebMD, genital herpes can increase the risk of women developing cervical cancer.

Note that if your symptoms dissipate, it doesn’t mean you no longer have the virus. Herpes is one of the STDs with no cure, and you can still infect other people even if you have no visible symptoms.

Differences between HSV-1 and HSV-2

According to the World Health Organization, there are two types of herpes simplex virus – herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). About 67% of the global population has HSV-1, while 13% are HSV-2 carriers.

Having HSV-2 can increase the risk of contracting another sexually transmitted disease, such as HIV. That’s because HSV-2 causes genital herpes, which causes sores around your genitals. These sores create openings for STDs in bodily fluids to enter the body during intercourse.

While HSV-2 causes genital herpes, HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes. Even though each virus type has its preferred location for proliferation, it is possible to have HSV-1 on your genitals and HSV-2 around your mouth.

Can you donate blood if you have herpes type 1? You can if you do not have active herpes symptoms or have not recently used an antiviral medication.

If You Have Genital Herpes, Can You Donate Blood?

Before discussing whether you can donate blood when you have herpes, we need to answer the question: Can herpes be transmitted through blood donation?

Previously, blood collection facilities allowed herpes carriers to donate blood as long as they did not have an active infection. That’s because many believed that herpes could spread only during intercourse or via direct skin-to-skin contact.

However, recent studies suggest that herpes may spread via blood transfusions, regardless of whether the infected has an active infection. Since there isn’t enough evidence to support this theory, many facilities still accept blood from herpes carriers.

Can you donate blood if you have herpes simplex virus type 2?

HSV-2 may be worse than HSV-1, but many facilities accept blood donations from carriers of either virus. However, if you have HSV-1 or 2, you may not qualify to donate blood if you have fresh or unhealed lesions or cold sores. You can return to donate after your herpes sores have healed or 48 hours after receiving antiviral medication for the infection.

Note that antiviral medication won’t cure herpes. It will only minimize the symptoms and help them dissipate faster. For example, a doctor may prescribe Imiquimod, Sinecatechins, Podofilox to relieve the blisters. Other useful antivirals for managing herpes symptoms are Famciclovir, Acyclovir, and Valacyclovir.

According to the American Red Cross, people with oral or genital herpes can donate blood as long as they meet these eligibility requirements:

  • Be in general good health
  • Be at least 17 years of age
  • Weigh at least 110 pounds

If you still have doubts about your eligibility to donate blood, visit a Rapid STD Testing center to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Alternately, order for same-day STD testing online. Getting tested is especially important if you recently had unprotected sex or have any other reason to suspect that you have herpes.

After your doctor or a Rapid STD Test confirms your eligibility to donate blood, visit the Red Cross website or AABB website to find nearby places where you can donate blood.

Donating Blood with Other STDs

Hospitals and emergency treatment facilities across the United States rely on blood donations to save lives every day. However, using infected blood can cause more harm than good. That’s why, before you can donate blood, you have to undergo screening for transmissible diseases.

The screening typically involves filling out a survey that asks questions about your health. Should you provide incorrect or false information, your donated blood will still undergo screening before medical facilities use it.

What STDS do they check for when you donate blood?

CDC guidelines recommend checking donated blood for these STDs:

  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Types 1 and 2: HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. It is also transmissible through tainted blood. The virus compromises the immune system’s ability to stave off bacteria, viruses, and fungi that cause illness. Within two to six weeks of contracting HIV, patients may experience fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, and lethargy.
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS): Not treating HIV will lead to it becoming AIDS. AIDS is incurable, and it can be life-threatening. Its symptoms include severe weight loss, chronic diarrhea, shortness of breath, and coughing.
  • Human T-Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV): HTLV, also called Human T-Cell Leukemia Virus, can cause leukemia/lymphoma – cancer of the bone marrow or blood. HTLV can spread through blood, breast milk, and semen.
  • Hepatitis: Hepatitis A, B, and C are viral infections that compromise the liver. If left untreated, the disease may cause fatigue, vomiting, fever, and jaundice.
  • Treponema Pallidum (Syphilis): Syphilis is a curable STD that affects the genitals and spreads to the brain and heart if left untreated. Symptoms may include sores all over the body, fatigue, fever, and soreness. As the condition worsens, it can cause paralysis, loss of coordination, dementia, and blindness.

What are signs you need STD testing?

If you notice any strange discharge or odors from your genitals or unusual growths or sensations around your genitals, get a Rapid STD Testing 10 panel STD test. The test can check for most of the STDs that disqualify people from being blood donors.

Besides STDs, you may not be eligible to donate blood if you test positive for:

  • West Nile Virus (WNV)
  • Zika Virus (ZIKV)
  • Babesia
  • Trypanosoma cruzi (Chagas disease)
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

When Can’t You Donate Blood?

The American Red Cross warns against donating blood if you have done any of the following in the past three months:

  • Worked as a sex worker
  • Taken Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) or Truvada for preventing HIV
  • Had sex with someone who has HIV, HTLV, or Hepatitis B or C
  • Injected recreational drugs or had sex with someone who injected drugs not prescribed by a doctor

People who do the above are at a higher risk of contracting an STD or other diseases that make blood unsuitable for transfusions. You also shouldn’t donate blood if you weigh less than 110 pounds. If you give blood while weighing less than 110 pounds, your weight may drop too quickly and trigger health complications.

People who have (or have had) the following conditions should also not give blood:

  • Hemochromatosis – a hereditary disorder that causes iron salts to accumulate in the tissues, leading to liver damage, diabetes mellitus, and other issues
  • Leukemia, lymphoma, or Hodgkin’s disease in the past
  • A dura mater (brain covering) transplant
  • A Zika infection in the last four months
  • Ebola at any time in your life
  • Hepatitis B or C or jaundice without an identified cause
  • A trip to a place where malaria is widespread
  • A blood transfusion within the last year
  • Made a donation of whole blood within the last 56 days

 If you have active tuberculosis or any other sickness, you shouldn’t donate blood. That’s because donating blood weakens you, which can complicate your recovery. Only donate blood after fully recovering from any sickness you might have.

People on the following medications also cannot donate blood:

  • Narcotics for pain
  • Antiplatelet medications
  • Antibiotics for bacterial illnesses
  • Blood thinners
  • Growth hormone injections
  • Acne medications that contain isotretinoin
  • Finasteride and dutasteride for benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH)
  • Soriatane for psoriasis

Lastly, you cannot donate blood while you are drunk. That’s because alcohol dilates blood vessels and hinders blood flow to the brain. Should you donate blood while drunk, it will reduce blood flow to your brain, leading to dizziness, fainting, and possibly long-term harm to your health.

What You Should Know Before Donating Blood

Besides saving the lives of others, donating blood can be emotionally and physically beneficial. According to the Mental Health Foundation, donating blood can:

  • Alleviate stress
  • Boost your emotional well-being
  • Prevent cardiovascular disease by reducing harmful iron deposits

Also, when you go to donate blood, you get a free health checkup. The checkup will identify whether you are healthy enough to give blood by checking your:

  • Pulse
  • Body temperature
  • Blood pressure
  • Hemoglobin levels

Failing the screening could mean that you have a health issue that you were unaware of, and you can seek help before it gets worse.

Donating blood is safe as long as you are a healthy adult. Since the medical personnel use sterile equipment for each donor, you don’t have to worry about picking up diseases from other donors. However, depending on your physiology and other factors, you may briefly experience these side effects after giving blood:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Slight bruising, swelling, or bleeding where the needle entered your arm
  • Arm pain, numbness, or tingling

If you experience physical weakness after donating blood, it should pass after a while. You can speed up your recovery by resting with your feet up and drink lots of water, herbal tea, or broth.

Note that most states require you to be over 17 before you can donate whole blood. Some other states permit 16-year-olds to donate as long as they have parental consent. Before donating blood, eat a healthy meal with low-fat content and drink at least 16 ounces of water.

If you drink or smoke, avoid doing either at least 12 hours before donating blood. Lastly, wear a sleeveless or short-sleeved shirt so that your blood-giving arm will be easily accessible.

Get a Rapid STD Test and Verify Your Eligibility to Donate Blood and Save Lives

Now that you know the answer to the question about whether you can donate blood if you have herpes, you are probably considering getting tested. At Rapid STD Testing, we keep the process of getting tested for STDs convenient, affordable, and private. You can order at-home tests or get tested at one of our nearby STD testing centers and then check your results online within one to three days. 

Contact us at Rapid STD Testing today to order a test panel or find STD testing centers near you.