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Is blood supply really safe?
Feb 24, 2002

Dr. Fisher,

How safe is the blood supply in the US? I am concerned because recently one of my close friends received a blood transfusion. I know blood is tested thoroughly, yet I have also read that certain strains of HIV (strain O, N) are not detectable by current testing mechanisms. Thus, how does one really know the blood they are receiving is safe if these strains might not be detected? Tragically, the way I see it testing for these strains will be made commomplace only after some poor recipient is infected by one of these strains. (I realize these are rare strains, yet how do we really know they are rare if we aren't even testing for them?)

Response from Dr. Fisher

We do know that there has been but one case of documented transmission of HIV in the 17 years since screening of blood donors began. We can never be 100% certain of risk-free blood transfusions, but these odds are very favorable don't you think? I believe that those strains that you mentioned are rare. The blood centers do ask people to exclude themselves from donating if they have a history of high risk behaviors (and this gives an added safety factor). This latter policy is somewhat controversial - many gay man want to donate but are excluded if they are honest with the blood centers even if they are HIV-negative repeatedly. AF

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