After the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, more than 5,300 people donated blood through the OneBlood statewide on Sunday, as reported by NBC News. But sexually active gay and bisexual men, who are not allowed to help their fellow LGBT members by donating blood, have taken on social media to express outrage and frustration.

A gunman killed 49 people and left other 53 injured at the Pulse gay nightclub, marking the worst mass shooting ever in the United States. Only 10 percent of Americans who meet the requirements to donate blood do so any given year, but the worst shooting the nation has ever seen has led people to turn out massively.

A blood rally following the shooting  earlier this week at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida
A blood rally following the shooting earlier this week at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Image Credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

The OneBlood donation center’s website crashed from online traffic as it saw a single-day record, as informed by Susan Forbes, vice president of marketing and communications.

The Pulse nightclub was mostly preferred by gay men, but they cannot help their own community due to official rules from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that require them to abstain from sex with another man for at least 12 months in order to be eligible to donate blood.

“There’s an urgent need for blood donors in Orlando. Gay men still can’t donate,” tweeted the openly gay Democratic Congressman Jared Polis.

U.S. health officials argue they mean to keep recipients safe

Health officials say tests for HIV do not reveal early infections, meaning that a man who recently had gay sex might have a negative test result even if he had contracted the virus.

As a consequence, the recipient of such a donation could become infected, according to the American Red Cross. This happens because HIV antibodies usually take a few weeks to develop following an infection of this kind.

Additionally, there have been cases in which gay men have lied about having recently had sex with another man. A Missouri man who donated blood twice in 2008 told the blood center that he had never had gay sex, but he tested positive for HIV at his second donation attempt, according to a report by NBC News. A kidney transplant patient who received his first donation became infected with the virus.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) argues it asks blood banks to exclude sexually active gay men because it wants to keep the blood supply as safe as possible by warranting that the human immune deficiency virus that causes AIDS is out.

The American Red Cross says that the risk of being infected with HIV if a patient receives a contaminated blood transfusion is 90 percent. And a single blood unit can be received by three different people.

Over 14,000 people, including children, had become infected with HIV through blood transfusions by the last quarter of 2001, when screening for the virus in blood donations did not exist yet.

Gay and bisexual men have a disproportionate burden of infections of this virus, particularly in the South, according to the report by NBC News. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that urban gay men who live in the south have a 30 percent HIV infection rate, whereas African-American sexually active gay men have a 50 percent lifetime risk of becoming infected.

After law enforcement officers arrived at the scene in Florida's Pulse nightclub, two witnesses wait anxiously for the stand-off to be over.
After law enforcement officers arrived at the scene in Florida’s Pulse nightclub, two witnesses wait anxiously for the stand-off to be over. Image Credit: Indy 100

The CDC explained that people fail to get tested and these groups usually ignore the risk and are therefore unaware of how important it is to use condoms and other safe sex methods.

But gay men are not the only group banned from donating blood due to their high risk of infection. Injecting drug users, sex workers, people with recent tattoos and people at risk of Zika virus infection are also excluded from giving blood. Even people who lived in the UK since the 1980s are asked not to give blood because they are at risk of a human version of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – most commonly known as mad cow disease –.

Health officials from the CDC and FDA claim they have been able to keep the blood supply almost entirely free of the virus thanks to their restrictions. In fact, the CDC reported that the risk of HIV infection through blood transfusion has dropped to about one in 1.5 million.

Democrats and health experts disagree

Dr. Paul Volberding, head of the AIDS Research Institute at the University of California, San Francisco, believes newer tests can detect if someone is infected with HIV within a few days, as reported by Reuters. He says that makes a one-year exclusion seem exaggerated.

On the other hand, OneBlood, who cannot adopt the FDA’s latest guidance, says recipients get its donations within three days. The center still bans all men who have ever had gay sex from giving blood.

Congressional Democrats disagree with the FDA and CDC guidelines, too. They urged on Monday the removal of those restrictions on blood donations from the gay and bisexual community, according to Reuters.

“We find it unacceptable that gay and bisexual men are banned from donating desperately needed blood in response to this tragedy,” reads a statement issued by Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, vice-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and three other Democratic lawmakers, Reuters reported.

But the FDA declared that same day it would not support an end to the restrictions due to lack of scientific evidence, adding that the current blood supplies were just fine.

Source: NBC News