Evaluation of screened blood donations for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection by culture and DNA amplification of pooled cells

N Engl J Med. 1991 Jul 4;325(1):1-5. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199107043250101.


Background: Reports of transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) from transfusions of screened blood and reports of silent, antibody-negative HIV-1 infections in persons at high risk continue to foster concern about the safety of the blood supply. Previous estimates of the risk of HIV-1 range from 1 in 38,000 to 1 in 300,000 per unit of blood but are based on either epidemiologic models or the demonstration of seroconversion in recipients.

Methods: We isolated peripheral-blood mononuclear cells from blood that was fully screened and found to be seronegative, combined them into pools of cells from 50 donors, and tested them for HIV-1 by viral culture and the polymerase chain reaction, using protocols specifically adapted for this analysis.

Results: The 1530 pools of mononuclear cells were prepared from 76,500 blood donations made in San Francisco between November 1987 and December 1989. Of these pools, 1436 (representing 71,800 donations) were cultured successfully; 873 (43,650 donations) were evaluated by the polymerase chain reaction. Only one pool was confirmed as HIV-1--infected by both methods. After adjustment for sample-based estimates of the sensitivity of the detection systems using culture and the polymerase chain reaction, the probability that a screened donor will be positive for HIV-1 was estimated as 1 in 61,171 (95 percent upper confidence bound, 1 in 10,695).

Conclusions: Silent HIV-1 infections are exceedingly rare among screened blood donors, so the current risk of HIV-1 transmission from blood transfusions, even in high-prevalence metropolitan areas, is extremely low.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / transmission*
  • Blood Donors*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • HIV Seropositivity
  • HIV-1 / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / microbiology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Probability
  • San Francisco / epidemiology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Transfusion Reaction*
  • Virus Cultivation