Blood Transfusions & Organ/Tissue Transplants
Our Nation's Blood Supply
In the early years of the HIV epidemic, blood transfusions were at increased risk for transmitting HIV infection. In 1985, however, an HIV test became available, and screening of all blood donations rapidly became universal. The U.S. blood supply is now among the safest in the world:
- All blood donors are prescreened for HIV risk factors.
- Blood donations are required to be tested both for presence of antibodies to HIV and of nucleic acids of HIV (RNA). RNA testing detects HIV at an earlier stage than HIV antibody testing.
- Blood and blood products that test positive for HIV are safely discarded and are not used for transfusions. Donors whose blood tests positive for HIV are notified by the collecting agency and are deferred from further donations.
It is important to know that you cannot get HIV from donating blood. Blood collection procedures are highly regulated and safe.
Do not donate Blood to Learn Your HIV Status
Some people think that donating blood is a better way to learn their HIV status than asking their doctor for an HIV test or visiting a clinic. This is not true. You should not donate blood to find out if you are HIV-positive.
Why? Because the HIV tests used to screen donor blood are highly accurate—but they aren't perfect. If you have been infected with HIV recently, even the most sensitive test may not show it, and you can infect others if your blood is transfused to them.
If you have engaged in high-risk sexual or drug taking behaviors, you should not donate blood. It is important, though, to learn your HIV status. You can get an HIV test at a number of places, including your local health department, public health clinic, or doctor’s office or at many local AIDS service organizations, community-based organizations, and even in mobile vans. Visit AIDS.gov’s HIV Testing Locations page to learn more and search for locations near you. By getting an HIV test, you can protect your own health, as well as the health of people who need blood! It is also possible to purchase a kit over the counter that lets you send a finger stick blood sample to a laboratory that will provide you anonymously with your HIV test result by phone.
Testing Donated Blood
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have responsibilities related to maintaining the safety of blood, as well as tissues, blood stem cells, and organs. In the U.S. regulations require that each unit of donated blood is tested for the following infectious agents to ensure its safety:
- Hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV and HCV), which cause inflammation of the liver.
- Human Immunodeficiency viruses (HIV-1 and HIV-2), the viruses that cause AIDS.
- Human T-Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV-1 and HTLV-2), which causes infections that can lead to leukemia or neurologic disease.
- Treponema pallidum. the bacterium that causes syphilis
- West Nile Virus, a virus spread through the bite of a mosquito that can cause neurologic disease.
- Chagas Disease, a disease that can lead to intestinal dysfunction or cardiac disease.
The risks of transplant-related HIV infection are low. All organ and tissue donors are screened for risk factors, and tested for HIV and other diseases that potentially could be transmitted through transplantation. However, although HIV tests are highly accurate, the tests do not always detect the virus in people with very recent infection. In 2007, there were four documented cases of HIV spread through organ transplants. These were the first cases in 20 years, and they were linked to a single donor, who tested negative for HIV in pre-transplant testing.
The Health Resources and Services Administration provides oversight of Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), the national system to coordinate organ donor screening, procurement, donor-recipient matching, and transplantation. OPTN policies require specific screening tests that must be performed in potential organ donors before the organs can be used for transplantation.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates human tissues for transplantation. In general, people with risk factors or who test positive for infectious diseases cannot donate tissues. All tissue donors are screened and tested for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, types I and II, and hepatitis B and C viruses. Depending on the type of tissue being donated, some tissue donors are also screened and tested for: Human T-cell Lymphotropic Viruses, types I and II; Syphilis; Chlamydia; and Gonorrhea. In addition, all donors are also screened for risk factors for West Nile Virus and human transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, including Creuztfeldt-Jakob disease.
For more information, see: FDA’s Guidance for Industry: Eligibility Determination for Donors of Human Cells, Tissues, and Cellular and Tissue-Based Products
Fact Sheets & Print Materials
- NIH’s Blood Transfusion Safety
- CDC HIV Questions and Answers – Blood Safety
- CDC’s Blood Safety website
- CDC - Guidelines for Preventing Transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Through Transplantation of Human Tissue and Organs
- FDA’s Keeping Blood Transfusions Safe: FDA's Multi-layered Protections for Donated Blood
- FDA’s Complete List of Donor Screening Assays for Infectious Agents and HIV Diagnostic Assays
- FDA’s Blood Donations from Men Who Have Sex with Other Men: Questions and Answers
- President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) - Report on Blood Safety and HIV/AIDS
- OrganDonor.gov the official U.S. Government Web site for organ donation and transplantation.
Last revised: 07/18/2012