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Can You Donate Blood, Plasma, or Organs With Undetectable HIV?

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Cueto, M.D.
Posted on June 4, 2024

Many people, including those living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), would like to help others through blood, organ, or plasma donation. One myHIVteam member asked, “Can people who have HIV but are undetectable donate blood or plasma?”

The short answer is, unfortunately, no. The safety and well-being of both donors and recipients must be the top priority. Even if their viral load is undetectable, individuals with HIV can’t donate blood, plasma, or organs. Let’s explore why this is the case.

How Is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is an infection that attacks the body’s immune system. It specifically targets white blood cells, which help protect you from other infections.

HIV can be transmitted in many ways, including through:

  • Blood (including from injection drug use and blood transfusion)
  • Breast milk
  • Semen (including through vaginal or anal sex)
  • Vaginal fluids (including to sexual partners and to a baby during childbirth)

It can’t be spread through saliva (sharing food or kissing), hugs, or mosquitoes.

A person who has uncontrolled HIV infection, with higher levels of HIV in their body, can transmit HIV more easily than a person with a low amount of the virus.

What Does It Mean To Be Undetectable?

When someone with HIV takes their antiretroviral therapy (ART) consistently and effectively, the amount of virus in their blood — also known as their viral load — can become so low that standard tests can’t detect it. During this time, there’s an extremely low risk that HIV can be transmitted to others through sexual contact and other ways listed above. As many people in the HIV community say, “undetectable equals untransmittable.”

This doesn’t mean that HIV is completely gone from your body. If you stop taking your ART medications, the very small amount of virus left will easily multiply and become detectable again.

Where Does HIV Live in the Body?

Even when people are undetectable, small levels of HIV can be found in different parts of the body, especially the genital tract and central nervous system, and in fluids such as breast milk and cerebrospinal fluid. Moreover, the risk of HIV transmission through blood is well documented. Even when the amount of virus in an individual’s blood is too low to be spread through sexual contact, it might be possible to transmit it through blood transfusions because more blood is involved. This is why people with HIV, regardless of their viral load, are ineligible to become plasma or blood donors.

Organ donations pose a similar risk. Blood travels through organs, so HIV can exist in trace amounts in transplanted organs. HIV likes to live in the kidneys, lungs, and liver — all commonly transplanted organs.

Transplanting blood, plasma, or an organ from someone with HIV to someone without HIV carries the risk of transmission. The transmitted virus can easily multiply and establish an HIV infection in the recipient.

Screening and Prevention of Donations

Ensuring the safety of donated blood products and organs is paramount. All donated blood components undergo a rigorous screening process by the blood bank to detect the presence of infectious agents, including HIV.

However, even with these screenings, there is a fear of not detecting HIV because of the window in which donor blood or plasma may test negative for HIV despite coming from someone with HIV. Precautions about who can donate blood and organs are put in place to protect recipients against HIV transmission.

Other Ways To Give Back

People who wish to donate blood but can’t because of living with HIV can contribute to their communities in other ways. Volunteering at or even organizing blood drives with the American Red Cross can help make a huge difference in your community. You can also promote HIV advocacy by raising awareness about HIV prevention, testing, and treatment.

By actively engaging activities like these, individuals with HIV can play an essential role in improving the lives of others with and without HIV.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myHIVteam, the social network for people with HIV and their loved ones, more than 41,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with HIV.

Have you ever wanted to donate blood, plasma, or bone marrow while living with HIV? Have you participated in other alternatives to blood donation? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on June 4, 2024

    A myHIVteam Member

    I know now, will have to change my ID, thought I can denote organs.

    posted 5 days ago
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    Elizabeth Cueto, M.D. graduated from the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City. Learn more about her here.
    Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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