No rejected blood donations = No HIV?

Originally Published: June 6, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 4, 2008
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Dear Alice,

My boyfriend claims he is HIV negative based on the fact that his blood donations have not been rejected. Is this a safe assumption? Is each and every pint of donated blood really tested for HIV and other blood-transmittable diseases? Do they really contact the donor if the blood is rejected because it tested positive for a blood-borne disease?

Dear Reader,

Based on your boyfriend's history of donating blood, it may be reasonably safe to assume that your boyfriend is HIV-negative. However, this depends on how regularly he donates blood (i.e., every 6 months, every year, every two years, etc.), and when the last time he donated blood was, because HIV test results may not show up as positive (reliably) for at least several weeks to several months after exposure. Blood donor or not, a proper HIV test is the only way to be sure of your and his HIV status. If you are students at Columbia, you can receive confidential HIV testing and counseling through the Gay Health Advocacy Project, open to all students. Outside of Columbia, you can check the CDC's HIV Testing Resources website.

FYI, there are U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations that require all of the nation's blood supply to be tested for Hepatitis B surface antigen, Hepatitis B core antibody, HIV-1 and 2 antibodies, HIV p24 antigen, Hepatitis C, Syphilis, HTLV-1 and 2 (Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus), and ALT (Alanine aminotransferase, which is a liver marker). If the donated blood has a positive result for at least one of these eight tests, then the blood donor will be notified, and her/his unit of blood would be rejected and not used. In addition, donor status, whether or not the person can donate blood again, will depend on which specific test was positive and/or the number of repeated positive test results. In addition to the above-mentioned tests, some blood centers may also test for Lyme disease and CMV (Cytomegalovirus), but these tests are not mandated by the FDA.

For more information on blood donations, you can contact the New York Blood Center at 1.800.NY.BLOOD (692-5663) or the American Red Cross. For more information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV, search through Alice's Sexual Health archive.

Alice