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N Engl J Med. 1995 Dec 28;333(26):1721-5.

Estimated risk of transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus by screened blood in the United States.

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  • 1HIV Seroepidemiology Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA.



In the United States, transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) by blood transfusion occurs almost exclusively when a recently infected blood donor is infectious but before antibodies to HIV become detectable (during the "window period"). We estimated the risk of HIV transmission caused by transfusion on the basis of the window period associated with the use of current, sensitive enzyme immunosorbent assays and recent data on HIV incidence among blood donors.


We analyzed demographic and laboratory data on more than 4.1 million blood donations obtained in 1992 and 1993 in 19 regions served by the American National Red Cross, as well as the results of HIV-antibody tests of 4.9 million donations obtained in an additional 23 regions.


We estimated that, in the 19 study regions, 1 donation in every 360,000 (95 percent confidence interval, 210,000 to 1,140,000) was made during the window period. In addition, it is estimated that 1 in 2,600,000 donations was HIV-seropositive but was not identified as such because of an error in the laboratory. We estimated that 15 to 42 percent of window-period donations were discarded because they were seropositive on laboratory tests other than the HIV-antibody test. When these results were extrapolated to include the additional 23 Red Cross service regions, there was a risk of one case of HIV transmission for every 450,000 to 660,000 donations of screened blood. If the Red Cross centers are assumed to be representative of all U.S. blood centers, among the 12 million donations collected nationally each year an estimated 18 to 27 infectious donations are available for transfusion.


The estimated risk of transmitting HIV by the transfusion of screened blood is very small and nearly half that estimated previously, primarily because the sensitivity of enzyme immunosorbent assays has been improved.

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