It is presently disputed whether studies indicating a higher risk of infectious diseases among paid blood donors are lessons of the past, or still hold relevance. Comparative studies published between 1968 and 2001 were assessed for a possible trend of change in the relative risk for infectious disease markers between paid and unpaid blood or plasma donors. Studies reporting that paid donors had lower risk were found, but most studies, including recent ones, continued to report that paid donors have higher rates of infectious disease markers than unpaid donors. By log-linear regression analysis of the relative risk estimates for infectious disease markers among paid and unpaid donors from 28 published data sets, evidence was not found to indicate that the difference in risk for infectious disease markers between paid donors and unpaid donors had diminished over time (P = 0.128, not significant). Paid donors are still more likely than unpaid donors to donate blood in the period during which infectious donations escape detection by blood-screening tests (the "window-period"). Therefore, paid donations have a higher risk that labile blood components (such as red blood cells and platelets) are infected. Additional safety measures for handling plasma donations, and the preparation, purification and viral-inactivation steps employed for the production of plasma derivatives, may render the difference in infectious disease marker rates in donors irrelevant for plasma products. However, not all viruses are inactivated and paid donors were repeatedly found to have higher frequencies of markers for emerging agents. In a quality system, critical steps of the process should be addressed, and selection of the donor population is one of the first steps in this process. It is advised that blood establishments present yearly reports (with complete and raw data) to authorities on the incidence and prevalence of infectious disease markers among their donors as an ongoing surveillance on the "quality" of their donor populations. Paid blood or plasma donors still have higher rates for infectious disease markers than unpaid donors.