Public health

No justification for tattoo blood donation delay: study

The current policy of postponing blood donations for 4 months after having a tattoo does not appear to be justified by any increased  risk of blood borne virus (BBV) transmission, Australian researchers have shown.

The incidence of BBV among people with a tattoo deferral notice on the medical records was not greater than the general population, according to a retrospective study carried out by Veronica Hoad and colleagues at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, Perth.

In their study, they reviewed the incidence of BBV in more than 25,000 people who had tattoo-related donor deferral over a four year period from 2013 to 2016.

The detected HCV infection incidence was very low, at  13.3/100 000 person-years, and reduced further to 4.4/100 000 when other factors were adjusted for. This compared favourably to the incidence of BBV in a control group of blood donors with a deferral due to travel to a malaria-endemic area, who had a hep C incidence of 9.3/100,000 person-years.

The residual risk of transmission of a BBV after a tattoo would be 1 in 34 million, according to their estimates published in Vox Sanguinis.

“This residual risk indicates BBV deferral for donors post-tattoo in Australia is not required for blood safety,” they wrote.

The study authors noted that tattooing is now a common practice in Australia and has become the main reason for deferring blood donations. However, automatic deferral is not mandated in other countries such as the UK, where the  Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs recommended no deferral after body piercing or tattooing based on a negligible risk of less than 1 in 1 million.

And since tens of thousands of blood donations are deferred due to tattooing in Australia, “there is potential for a large sufficiency gain if the tattoo deferral can be removed or reduced.”

Consideration should therefore be given to lifting the tattoo deferral policy at least for people who have had a tattoo done on licensed premises.

“To cover the risk of asymptomatic bacteraemia, we recommend a short-term plasma for fractionation restriction,” they added.

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