Blood donors with tattoos don't have to wait as long after getting inked to donate to The Blood Alliance, thanks to a recent policy change.
The alliance, the sole provider of blood for area hospitals -- Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Hilton Head Hospital, Coastal Carolina Hospital and Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah -- now is allowing donors to give blood after tattoos have healed, which takes about a month.
The previous wait time was one year because of concerns about blood-borne pathogens, which can transmit diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, alliance spokeswoman Odette Struys said.
The shorter wait time comes after regulation changes in Florida, where the alliance is based. It also operates in South Carolina and Georgia. As of January 2012, Florida was the last state among the three to require tattoo artists to have a license, which includes mandatory testing, hygiene standards and classes on how to prevent the spread of disease.
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Donors self-report their tattoos to the alliance on a "good faith system," Struys said. The alliance won't be checking if tattoos were received at licensed parlors. All blood samples are screened for diseases to ensure a safe supply, she said.
At The Blood Alliance donation center on Boundary Street in Beaufort, supervisor Anthony Higginbotham said he had to turn away about one potential donor a month because of their tattoos.
"It's more common with military and the younger generation," Higginbotham said.
Under the previous rules, the yearlong deferral time started when potential donors self-reported their tattoos at a donation center, regardless of how old they said their tattoos were. Struys said some people might have never come in to donate because they knew the rules.
Artist Isaac Dunn of Island Tattoo Co. on Hilton Head Island said he has had to inform some customers that getting inked means a long wait to give blood.
The alliance, which deferred about 1 percent of its donors in all three states each year because of tattoos, expects its donor pool to increase by 3 percent annually because of the change.
At the alliance's donor center in Jacksonville, Fla., the decrease in wait times was good news for 43-year-old Charles Moore, who has sleeves of tattoos on both arms. He knows firsthand how donating blood can save lives: His father needed blood transfusions during a recent surgery.
Moore is one of the Jacksonville center's 3-gallon donors, which Struys says is a rare feat.
"I've always had to wait to give blood if I got a tattoo, but this new policy change is great," Moore said. "I can't wait to pass the word along."
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