Changing blood donor screening criteria from permanent deferral for men who have sex with men to individual sexual risk assessment: no evidence of a significant impact on the human immunodeficiency virus epidemic in Italy

Blood Transfus. 2013 Jul;11(3):441-8. doi: 10.2450/2013.0162-12. Epub 2013 Jun 14.


Background: In 2001, the criteria for blood donor eligibility in Italy were modified by a ministerial decree from a permanent deferral for "men who have sex with men" to an individual risk assessment of sexual behaviours. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of this change in donor screening criteria on the human immunodeficiency virus epidemic among blood donors in Italy.

Materials and methods: We used the data obtained from the Italian blood donor epidemiological surveillance system. We compared data collected in 2009 and 2010, when the individual risk assessment policy was applied, with data collected in 1999 when permanent deferral was applied for men who have sex with men based on a declaration of sexual orientation. We evaluated the change over time in the relative proportion of HIV antibody-positive donors who likely acquired the infection from men who have sex with men vs heterosexual sexual exposure; the relative risk was calculated using 1999 as the reference year.

Results: In all 3 years, the majority of HIV antibody-positive donors reported sexual exposure as a risk factor for HIV infection; this proportion increased over time, although not statistically significantly. Heterosexuals always accounted for at least 40% of all HIV antibody-positive cases. The rate of HIV antibody-positive donors increased similarly in men who have sex with men and heterosexuals; specifically, the rate of HIV antibody-positive cases per 100,000 donors was more than 2-fold higher among men who have sex with men in 2009-2010 than in 1999 (2009-2010 vs 1999, RR =2.8; P =0.06), and that among heterosexuals was 1.5 fold higher (P =0.18).

Discussion: When comparing the period before (1999) and after (2009-2010), the implementation of the individual risk assessment policy in 2001, no significant increase in the proportion of men who have sex with men compared to heterosexuals was observed among HIV antibody-positive blood donors, suggesting that the change in donor deferral policy did not lead to a disproportionate increase of HIV-seropositive men who have sex with men.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Blood Donors*
  • Donor Selection / methods*
  • Donor Selection / organization & administration
  • Donor Selection / standards
  • HIV Antibodies / blood*
  • HIV Seropositivity* / blood
  • HIV Seropositivity* / epidemiology
  • HIV-1*
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Assessment / organization & administration
  • Risk Assessment / standards
  • Risk-Taking*


  • HIV Antibodies