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BBlood Transfusion and HIV

Aug 21, 1996

I understand that receiving a blood transfusion is a low risk activity. Do they test each unit of blood that is given? If so, do they use the same blood test for HIV that would be given to me? Given that the HIV test may not show positive results for 6 months, is it possible for an infected donor to give blood during this time when they are not testing positive? Thanks for your answer - keep up the good work!

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

My answer is stricly limited for the testing of the blood supply in the United States. Blood screening proceedures can vary from country to country.

In the USA, EVERY unit of blood is tested for a number of bloodborne diseases including HIV-1, HIV-2, Hepatitis B and C, HTLV I and II, and syphilis. If you test positive for any of these infections, the blood is disposed of, and the donor is notified that they have tested positive.

In regard to HIV testing:

Blood screening is stricter than routine HIV testing. During routine HIV testing, a person is normally only tested for HIV-1, and the standard ELISA/Western Blot tests are used. These are very good tests as long as it's been 6 months or more after a possible exposure to the virus. At 6 months, the tests are more than 99% accurate. During blood screening, IN ADDITION TO the ELISA/Western Blot tests, they do another HIV test called a p-24 antigen test. This additional test cannot be used to diagnose HIV by itself, but can be used in addition to antibody testing. This second test can pick up an HIV infection about a week sooner than the antibody tests do. The p-24 antigen test is expected to prevent 10 blood transfusion related infections per year in the American blood supply. The antibody tests are very good alone. The p-24 antigen tests just make a good screening system, even better. Also the blood supply is tested for both HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is found worldwide. HIV-2 is primarily found in Western Africa, and is rare outside of this part of the world. But the USA blood supply is tested for both HIV-1 and HIV-2, even though HIV-2 is very rare in the United States.

Because of the 6 month window period, prospective blood donors must, IN ADDITION TO testing, go through an interview BEFORE they donate, to determine their risks for HIV and other bloodborne diseases. If they put themselves at risk for ANY of these diseases, they are not permitted to donate. So between the manditory interview, antibody tests, and the p-24 antigen tests, the chances an infected person will put the blood supply at risk is very very small.

Let me strongly state that one should NEVER donate blood to get tested for HIV and other bloodborne diseases. This puts the blood supply at needless risk of these infections. One could get tested for HIV, Hepatitis, HTLV, and Syphilis through a local doctor or clinic.

If you have further questions, please e-mail me at "" or call me at 1-800-842-AIDS.

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