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Thursday, July 30, 2009 12:48 am

Tattoo inspections to benefit blood centers

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Three years after a new Illinois law went into effect requiring registration and yearly inspections for tattoo and body-piercing establishments, the state is finally prepared to begin inspections. And while implementation of the law will improve public safety by eliminating the chances of passing infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, through infected needles, the greatest benefit will be to local blood banks and those in desperate need of blood transfusions.

Prior to the law, Illinois tattoo and body piercing shops were not required to register with the state, nor did the establishments face any sort of sanitary inspections. As a result, Illinois blood centers, accredited by the Association of Blood Banks (AABB), were forced to turn away possible donors who received tattoos within the past year, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the establishments use disposable needles.

“This [inspections] is big for us,” states David Parsons, CEO for the Springfield-based Central Illinois Community Blood Center, which serves central and southwestern Illinois. “We are on the cusp of big change,” he added. Parsons reports that Illinois blood banks turn away approximately 100 potential donors each day because they have recently been tattooed. An average of three to five a day attempt to donate at the Central Illinois Community Blood Center, which provides blood for 19 hospitals.

According to the National Geographic News, about 15 percent of Americans have tattoos. With tattoos and body piercings extremely popular among people under the age of 30, Parsons expects the new law to have the greatest impact on that particular age group. Currently, about 15 percent of the area’s blood donations come from donors between the ages of 16 and 19 via school blood drives.

While Parsons and officials from other community blood banks are happy about the inspections, those who have received tattoos within the past year should not flock to blood centers expecting to donate. Even though the inspections are scheduled to officially begin in August, Parsons says that donations will continue to be “deferred” for another four to six months to give the state a chance to initially inspect all of its establishments. The delay, reports Parsons, is to give those departments that have just begun inspections an opportunity to iron out any problems they may encounter. “It will then be up to a consensus of blood centers to decided when newly tattooed individuals will be able to donate.”

Although it has taken a number of years to draw up procedures for inspections and to train the inspectors, many counties, including Sangamon, have actually already begun the process. Inspections will be conducted by local health departments acting as agents of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

As summer heats up, Illinois blood banks generally face a shortage of blood donations.
And this summer is no different, with the Central Illinois Community Blood Bank Center’s donations down about 10 percent. Summer, says Parsons, is a time the need for blood increases due to accidents during summer vacations, and low blood donations during the school break. “Throughout the school year there are at least 60 school-sponsored bloodmobiles resulting in 6,000 units of blood,” said Parsons. He added: “Nationally, young people believe that it is cool to volunteer and perform service, regardless of whether the school requires it or not. They have a great time doing it, and they know that they can save a life.”

Contact Jolonda Young at ladyj2066@aol.com.

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