Rules and regulations to protect the nation's blood supply are keeping potential donors from rolling up their sleeves.

But the American Red Cross would prefer to take no chances when screening those who want to share this life-giving gift. Unfortunately, concerns over HIV, hepatitis and mad cow disease have greatly limited the donor pool, further depleting blood banks.

This is especially true in Georgia with its many military bases, which have generally been great sources for blood donors. Unfortunately, a rule imposed by the Food and Drug Administration doesn't allow anyone who spent a total of three months in the United Kingdom or six months in Europe since 1980 to donate. The concern is mad cow disease, and even though it hasn't been seen in this country, many in the armed services and their families cannot donate blood.

Locally, Moody Air Force Base had been a large source of donors for the American Red Cross until the "mad cow" rules were imposed within the past couple years.

Whether this rule is relaxed remains to be seen, but the potential number of donors also has become limited because of the wide popularity of tattoos and body piercings. Donors must wait one year after a tattoo and are indefinitely deferred after a piercing unless they are sure it was done as a sterile procedure.

What this means is that potential donors without these eligibility issues are needed more than ever by the Red Cross. Unfortunately, many people have abnormal fears about giving blood. This procedure is entirely safe and relatively painless except for a needle prick.

The Red Cross calls the low blood supply a possibly disastrous health problem this summer. Last week, the Red Cross inventory had less than a day's supply of all blood types, and the supply of type O negative and O positive was so low, it was being saved by hospitals for critical situations.

In south central United States, there were 50,000 fewer blood donors than expected at donor centers and blood drives over the last seven weeks.

We urge those who have never shared this ultimate gift to at least visit the Red Cross blood center on Bemiss Road and consider donating. Blood drives also are scheduled throughout the area this coming month, and they are publicized regularly in this newspaper.

Remember, there is no substitute for human blood.

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