Traveling to the white, sandy beaches of Cancun and Cozumel may prevent Americans from donating blood for 12 months because of the risk of spreading malaria.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that tourists who visit the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, home to many popular vacation spots, not give blood.
The guidelines have been in place for years, according to the CDC, and yet there seems to be some surprise among travelers, said Sue Gonsior of the North Central chapter of the American Red Cross. Posts on several online forums, including TripAdvisor, expressed astonishment at the Cozumel and Cancun restrictions.
At the Red Cross, Cancun and Cozumel were added to the roster of destinations that put travelers on the deferral list in the last year, Gonsior said. An official at Memorial Blood Centers of Minnesota said Cancun and Cozumel were not considered at risk for malaria, so the agency has not deferred donors who traveled there. But the agency does turn away people who traveled south of Tulum, another Quintana Roo destination.
Roughly 220,000 Minnesotans travel to Mexico each year, the majority to beach destinations, said Javier Alejandro Magaa Maya of the Mexican consulate in St. Paul. More than 2.3 million Americans traveled to Quintana Roo last year.
Rare cases of malaria have been reported in Quintana Roo, according to the CDC's World Malaria Map. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates blood banks, is considering dropping the Quintana Roo deferral because the malaria risk is so low. In 2006, Quintana Roo accounted for about seven in 10 malaria-related blood deferrals for tourists to Mexico.
Gonsior said the restrictions had not affected blood donations significantly, although nationwide there is a 35,000-pint deficit in donations.
Daniela Hernandez • 612-673-4088