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HIV Transmission through the blood from banks

Mar 12, 1997

If HIV cannot live outside the human body, How come there are reports about HIV tramission through, getting the blood from the banks.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

When it comes to the survival of HIV, we have to look at the environmental conditions from the viruses perspective. Outside the human body under natural conditions, is a very harsh and unlivable environment for HIV, and the virus will only survive for a few minutes. However, survival inside a unit of blood is quite a different matter. From the viruses perspective, this is still a livable environment. A unit of blood has preservatives in it, and is stored under conditions where the blood cells can still live for many weeks, including the specific white blood cells which HIV infects. As long as the white blood cells which HIV infects can survive, so can HIV. Outside the human body under normal conditions, both HIV and blood cells (red and white) die rapidly. Inside a unit of blood (stored under very specific conditions, and stored with preservatives), red and white blood cells can survive. Since the white blood cells in which HIV lives can survive, so can HIV. The environmental conditions inside a stored unit of blood are very different from the environment outside the human body under natural conditions. It is for this reason that a unit of infected blood can still transmit HIV, whereas HIV outside the body (under natural conditions) cannot survive for more than a few minutes. Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that because of the extremely strict screening of the blood supply, the risks of getting HIV from a blood transfusion (in developed nations), is very, very small.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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