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.
The American Red Cross estimates that less than 5 percent of eligible people donate blood.
Let's dispel some of the myths by examining the facts about donating and receiving blood.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not possible to contract HIV when donating blood, as long as the needles are sterile and disposed of after one use, according to the American Association of Blood Banks.
Donors are screened, both for their safety and the safety of those who receive the blood. They must give a health history and be 18 years of age or older, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be healthy. Donors cannot give blood more than once every eight weeks.
People should not 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:
You have had a recent tattoo.
You or someone in your family has or had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
You had an injection of beef insulin made from cattle in the United Kingdom.
You recently had malaria.
You have lived in the United Kingdom for more than three months or in Europe for more than six months anytime after 1980.
You have been treated for syphilis or gonorrhea in the last year.
Thousands of blood transfusions are done every year in the United States. They are made as safe a 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 does not 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, and West Nile virus. Future screening may include viruses such as human herpes virus 8 and parvovirus B-19. Research also is being done on how to inactivate any viruses and bacteria in the donor blood.
If you are 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.
To make an autologous blood donation, you must be younger than 65; have no medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or epilepsy; and have an adequate hemoglobin level.