Do people still get HIV through blood transfusions?

Inspired by a story told in this thread: Can lawsuits really go this far?

I, and several others, were surprised that in this day and age, people are still getting HIV-tainted blood:

Then Trunk “opened up a huge can of worms,” casting doubt on the likelihood of this happening:

So, what do you think? Do people still get HIV-infected blood these days? Anyone have statistics on HIV infections occurring through blood transfusions recently?


Blood transfusions.

Dirty/previously used hypo syringes.

HIV is also a STD!

Well duh, of course I am aware that HIV is an STD and that you can get it from dirty needles!!

What I am asking is, they screen/test all blood donations for diseases, yes? Then how does infected blood get through??? How often is infected blood missed/how often does it make it past the screening/testing? How many infections per year are attributed to infected blood transfusions?

Every unit of blood in the U.S. is screened for HIV. However, neither the Western Blot/ELISA test nor the p24 antigen test will pick up an infection early – about 6 months after exposure. The interview is supposed to prevent recently exposed people from donating, but if a prospective donor lies, infected blood or blood products can indeed make it into a patient.

:smack: That should explain it more comprehensively!

Despite all the screening and testing it can and does happen. If you are having surgery make arrangements to give analogous blood!

Ok let me run down everything i know about the situation, if it wern’t such a sensitive topic i would ask them for more specific details.

  • My aunt and uncle have been married for about five years, previously he was somewhat promiscuous and a frequent bar hopper. However all indications are that he was “domesticated” when he fell in love with this very nice religious woman (she is a lovely woman and nobody had any idea she was his type)

  • They have been a hapilly married church going couple since the wedding, about 6 months ago the results of my aunt’s blood test came back and she was shocked to find she was HIV positive. After a short period of confusion it was concluded by my family that the only logical explanation is the recent blood transfusion she had received after surgery.

  • Before we knew for sure if my uncle was also infected, he was asked if you still intended to have sexual relations with his wife…to which he instantly responded that nothing would keep him from being intimate with her…I found this to be…commendable? Maybe somewhat fishy

  • Sure enough a blood test showed he was also infected and they were both receiving treatment and filing suits against the hospital

Now i was under the impression that contracting the virus through transfusions was almost 100% non existant these days, i began to find out that this hospital (in lousiana) has quite a history of be sued for causing pointless death and being generally unsafe (i get this information from my family)

I do not deny the possibility that my uncle could have been involved sexually with someone who was infected, or even the possibility that he had been sharing needles…even though all indications point toward no. He was living a very simple married life where we was rarely away from his wife…when they went out they usually did so together…in addition they live in a very small and tightly knit community where everyone knows everyone…and they are now the only known people around town infected with the virus.

My uncle is a good man, not inconceivable that he could have had a moment of weakness…but i would think that if that were true he would show enourmous amounts of guilt in his bahavior. When i am with him i see no signs of guilt, he seems pretty bent on fighting the hospital.

Now maybe someone can help me with the next part i am having trouble understand…How hard would it really be to prove/disprove that the transfusion she received was infected? And why is this lawsuit process taking so long? If it is in fact the transfusion (which i am fairly positive is the case) would they be able to get lots of media coverage for it? Should they find new lawyers that could make this go faster?

It is still possible for HIV-infected blood to slip through the screening process, although it is extremely rare(around 1 in 500,000 units). This is because the most common test detects antibodies to HIV, not HIV directly. If a person donates blood soon after they are infected (within about 2 weeks), their immune system will not have begun producing antibodies to the virus, and the test will not read positive.

There’s an inherent problem with answering the question, and that’s that there’s no way to determine how a particular individual contracted HIV. You can ask them, but they can lie, or just not know.

That said, the tests are getting better, but they’re not perfect. As Nametag said, they can’t pick up on recent infections. And then there’s the complication from Bayes’ theorem…

So while it’s certainly still possible, it’s less likely than it was 15 years ago.

You can still get HIV from a blood transfusion. I tell everyone I transfuse that the chance of them getting HIV is thought to be approximately one in one million. All blood is screened for HIV, but no screening process is foolproof. The numbers I use were those suggested during our surgery rotation, as well as in recent articles I’ve read on HIV transmission (specifically whether it is worthwhile for emergency departments to treat all occupational needlestick injuries with HIV medicines, but other risk factors for transmission were discussed).

During the early 90s, when I attended McGill, I knew several people who felt gay rights were being violated since Red Cross questionnaires excluded gays from giving blood. Screening was not perfect then, nor now, and I don’t see giving blood as a “right”. We’re grateful people do it, but there is an issue of public safety and people at high risk for exposure to hepatitides, mad cow disease or conditions such as AIDS should not (in my view) always be able to donate blood, even if this ticks them off.

I bet it would be pretty hard to prove. I am sure the hospitals have a good defense team, and they would certainly bring forth a lot of doubt that it was the blood and not through other means. The husband’s past is a big red flag and would cast a lot of doubt. How could it be proven beyond a doubt* that it was the blood, which is screened and tested…and not a sexually transmitted infection? All they would have to do is put the husband on the stand and ask him about his sexual past.

Also, I would doubt that the hospital would be the proper entity to sue anyway, right? They aren’t the entity that screened, tested and provided the blood…

ThatGuy, I’m sorry, I am just not buying the story. I think your uncle was infected and passed it to his wife. The probability of it being the blood is much less than the probability of it being sexually transmitted. And, as Trunk mentioned before, “female-male transmission through hetero-sexual sex is quite unlikely.”

That is probably why the case is not moving forward… because they probably don’t have a viable case.

  • Yeah I know in a civil suit the burden of proof doesn’t not have to be beyond a reasonable doubt, like in criminal cases.

Wow, that is enough of an interesting question that it is almost worth another GQ thread…

How can you prove an HIV infection was caused through a blood tranfusion? (with the circumstances being that the patient’s infection wasn’t discovered for months or years afterward…so the original source of the blood could’t be tested. Or that no other patients were infected from the same blood source.)

I would think that for anyone other than a child or a virgin… it would be very difficult to prove. For anyone who has ever had sex…ever, how could you prove a tainted transfusion?

There was an episode of SVU, that proved that a character engaged in and received HIV from a specific person by looking at the “DNA” of the virus from both persons. According to the show, HIV mutates and there are several strains. Because the accused, his wife and the victim had the same strain of HIV, they must have had contact.

I found a table from the cdc, showing source of HIV invection for 2002:

It shows 110 adult cases from blood transfusions etc.

However, notice that more than a third of the 34,000 plus cases the source is unknown or not reported.

Did your aunt and uncle have HIV tests done before the got married or had sex (whichever came first)?

If it can be shown that the blood was tested and the test result was negative, I don’t see how they could sue the hospital. No biological test is perfect–there are always false positives and negatives. Manufacturers try to eliminate those, but statistically they’re always going to be there.

When you donate blood, it is given a code by the Red Cross. This is used to identify donors who test positive for HIV/hepatitis etc. Every unit donated is given an ID code – as are all the platelets, factors, serum, red blood cells, etc. This is recorded by the lab when blood is tested or given, and becomes part of the patients chart. So if there was question, all the people who had given blood to that patient could be tested for HIV (and strains compared).

People who work in hospitals occasionally get poked with suture and injection needles. These needles are sometimes contaminated with blood, and the HIV status of the patient is unknown. You used to need the patient’s consent (in Ontario) to test patients for HIV in these circumstances (or in the case of an infected transfusion). I’ve never seen a patient refuse. However, under newer laws the patient is required to give blood for the purpose of HIV testing if there is doubt about a transfusion or needlestick injury.

I tell all patients about the risks of HIV and hepatitis since it greatly reduces my risk of liability. As a doctor, I document that patients were aware of the risks and benefits of transfusion, including possible HIV. In emergency cases, patient consent for transfusion is not required. This has caused, in the past, some litigation regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses who carry wallet cards. Nevertheless, no medical procedure is absolutely safe, I cannot make it absolutely safe, and my job is to let the patient decide when possible after being given the risks and benefits.


5 posts were split to a new topic: Vampire Facials and HIV

That was my thought - don’t the servics track where blood comes from? If so, they can probably prove that the blood supplied came from someone who is or is not now testing positive. If the person is lying about recent activity that made them positive in order to sell their blood (AIUI the process in some states?) then they would have been flagged in subsequent attempts to sell blood once they are detectable. Worse case, the lawyers can track the donors down to verify the situation.

But in terms of “likely” - the scenario where he got the disease and infected her is more plausible, based on alleged past character and odds; that she would have gotten “bad blood” as others mention, seems to be a one-in-a-million level scenario. However, neither is impossible and absent proof the donors are (still) clean, either is at least possible. If the donor(s) are now infected, that adds much credence to the “bad blood” theory.

Also, as I understand, female to male transmission is not as common as male to female transmission, which tends to suggest (but not prove) the direction the infection travelled. DNA tests on the AIDS strain are useless since it’s a given they were both infected ultimately from the same source no matter how. The L&O episode basically would have dealt with “did Bill from Brooklyn infect Bob from Bronx? Or are they just two people who happen to have different strains of AIDS from very different sources?”

Also, do hospitals collect blood themselves, or do they simply buy it from a supplier who takes care of the collection process along with the testing and tracking?

Plus, another possibility is sloppy procedures - but I also understand that in the medical world today, every procedure starts with fresh items sterilized out of new packages. Reusing needles or other stuff is the domain of third world countries and places where the supply chain has completely broken down.