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Myths About AIDS and the Blood Supply

Myth: You can get AIDS from donating blood.

Fact: All needles used by the American Red Cross are pre-packaged, sterile and disposed of after one use. You cannot get AIDS, hepatitis or any other infectious disease from donating blood


Myth: Because of AIDS and other diseases, the blood supply is not reliable.

Fact: The only way to assure a safe and adequate blood supply is for healthy people to donate regularly. Increasingly strict donor screening procedures, effective criteria, and advances in testing technology combine to make todayís community blood supply the safest it has ever been. In addition, physicians today use blood sparingly and only when medically necessary.


Myth: The risk of AIDS makes blood transfusions unsafe.

Fact: Like most medical procedures, blood transfusions have associated risk. In the more than fifteen years since March 1985, when the FDA first licensed a test to detect HIV antibodies in donated blood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported only 41 cases of AIDS caused by transfusion of blood that tested negative for the AIDS virus. During this time, more than 216 million blood components were transfused in the United States.


Myth: Each year hundreds of people are infected with AIDS because the AIDS tests are not good enough for blood donor screening.

Fact: The tests to detect HIV were designed specifically to screen blood donors. These tests have been regularly upgraded since they were introduced. Although the tests to detect HIV and other blood-borne diseases are extremely accurate, they cannot detect the presence of the virus in the "window period" of infection, the time before detectable antibodies or antigens are produced. That is why there is still a very slim chance of contracting HIV from blood that tests negative. Research continues to further reduce the very small risk.


Myth: The Red Cross buys blood.

Fact: The Red Cross never pays anyone to donate blood. Payment creates a potential incentive for prospective donors to lie about their health histories. The Red Cross draws blood only from volunteer donors. Scientific studies have proven that volunteer donors are the single greatest safeguard of the blood supply today.


Myth: If you know you will need blood, itís best to have people you know donate for you.

Fact: Directed donations are no safer than voluntary blood. They may, in fact, be less safe. Scientific research has shown that directed donations may have a higher risk of infection than the community blood supply. The reason may be that directed donors might feel pressured to donate and could lie about their health and risk behaviors. Volunteer blood donors are motivated only by altruism.

When surgery is planned and there is at least a 20 per cent possibility that the patient will need blood during surgery, the safest alternative is to donate your own blood in advance. This is known as an autologous blood donation.


Myth: You should have several pints of your own blood frozen and stored for your use in case of an emergency.

Fact: This is impractical for several reasons. First, it takes at least an hour and a half to "defrost" frozen blood, not counting the time required to deliver it to the site where you need it. That means that in an emergency, your own blood will not be immediately available to help you.. Additionally, storing frozen blood is extremely costly. A final consideration is that thawed blood is only usable for 24 hours. Freezing and storing your own blood usually does not make except for those individuals with extremely rare blood types. In a medical emergency, these individuals still must contend with the defrost-and-deliver dilemma.