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Myths and Facts About Donating, Receiving Blood

Many myths are associated with donating and receiving blood, including the threat of catching HIV, hepatitis, and other communicable diseases. According to the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), less than 10 percent of the U.S. population donates blood each year, although 38 percent of people are eligible to do so.

Let's dispel some of the myths by examining the facts about donating and receiving blood.

Donating blood

It's not possible to contract HIV when donating blood, as long as the needles are sterile and disposed of after one use. Donors are screened, both for their safety and the safety of those who receive the blood. They must give a health history and be at least age 16 or older, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be healthy. Donors can't give blood more than once every eight weeks.

People shouldn't donate blood if their lifestyles put them at risk for HIV, hepatitis B, malaria, or other infections that can be transmitted through blood.

These factors also bar you from giving blood, according to the AABB:

  • You have ever used intravenous drugs (illegal IV drugs).

  • You or someone in your family has or had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or has risk factors for the disease.

  • You have lived in the United Kingdom for more than three months from 1980 through 1996, or in Europe for more than five years anytime after 1980, or have received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom or France anytime from 1980 to the present.

Receiving blood

Thousands of blood transfusions are done every year in the United States. They're made as safe as possible by procedures that ensure infection isn’t transmitted and transfusion reactions don’t occur.

Typing and cross-matching

The blood type of the donor and the recipient must be matched to prevent a transfusion reaction, a potentially fatal condition. This is done in the hospital laboratory and is called “type and cross-match.”  Every precaution is taken to ensure that the donor blood and the recipient blood are compatible. In addition, multiple checks are put in place when labeling the blood for transfusion and checking it before it is given to the patient. Despite this, some risks remain, but these are small compared with the benefits when a transfusion is necessary.   

Preventing transfusion-related disease transmission

Every effort is made to ensure that the blood supply doesn't transmit infectious diseases. Donors are first screened by taking a medical history. People with certain lifestyles, who have lived in certain areas of the world, or with specific diseases, are rejected as donors and their blood is never drawn. When a donor is approved, the blood is drawn with single-use disposable needles, tubing, and collection bags. Before use, the blood is screened for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, human T-lymphotropic viruses, Chagas disease, and West Nile virus.

If you're going to have surgery, you may want to consider donating blood to yourself. This is called an autologous blood donation and means you have blood drawn for your own use later. There are several advantages to an autologous blood donation:

  • You don't have to worry that the donated blood will match yours.

  • It's very unlikely that you'll have an allergic reaction to the blood.

  • If you're a rare blood type, you don't have to worry that there might not be enough blood in the blood bank for you.

  • You avoid the risk of contracting any infectious diseases.