Is My Blood Worth Anything?
November 15, 2010 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Last month, I gave blood for the first time. I'm glad I did it, and as a bonus I was finally able to figure out my blood type. Now I'm curious if, based on my blood type, my blood is worth more/less/the same as any other blood type? Which donor types are generally perfered over others? There's the universal and valuable O- of course, but what about the others?

According to my donor card, I'm "B RH NEG", which I'm assuming means I'm B-. Obviously, all healthy donated blood has value - I'm not arguing that. But I'm wondering if my fairly rare blood type means its more or less valuable as a donation? According to Canadian Blood Services (the organization that handles all blood donations in Canada), B- is the 2nd rarest blood type, and is only posessed by 1.4% of the Canadian population. If I understand everything right, it's also apparently the hardest type to give blood to, as us B-'s can only accept from O- and B-. This means only 8.4% of the population can help me! Yikes! And only 12% of the population can accept B- blood. But this leads me to belive that really, my donated blood isn't really all that useful, compared to some of the other more popular blood types and especially the almighty O-. Or is my logic flawed, and it's relative rareness means it's even more valuable (especially to those with B- blood?) Or is it all a wash in the end?

In the end, it doesn't really matter, because as long as my donations can be useful and help someone, the donation is worth doing. But at the same time, I'm not all that inclined to go to the trouble of finding a clinic and hanging out with a needle in my arm for an hour if they're really thinking "thanks for the thought, but we don't really need you right now."

Does anyone have any experience and knowledge of how the blood people percieve the contributions based on blood type? Does blood of the lesser needed types ever expire and not get used, just because it's not needed? I guess no one would really go out and say "We don't need your (blood) type" as that could hurt donations overall, but really - is there a perception that some blood is better than the others?
posted by cgg to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here is their frequencies in the population.
posted by quodlibet at 7:56 AM on November 15, 2010

If I understand everything right, it's also apparently the hardest type to give blood to, as us B-'s can only accept from O- and B-.

Wouldn't O- be the hardest type to give blood to then?
posted by dcjd at 7:58 AM on November 15, 2010

Lots of good info on Wikipedia
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:58 AM on November 15, 2010

Back in the day, hospitals in the Boston area kept lists of willing donors with unusual blood types. My father, also B-, occasionally received telephone calls from hospitals with needs that could not be met through the regional system. Sometimes they would give him a little backstory on the patient (nothing identifiable, although this was pre-HIPAA) to goose his motivation.
posted by carmicha at 8:00 AM on November 15, 2010

I knew someone who was B- -- one of the rarer types, though I am 95% sure it was B- specifically -- and he got called back every 2 months asking for more blood. I, with my O+ blood, was never asked specifically to return.
posted by jeather at 8:02 AM on November 15, 2010

Basic answer is that blood of all types is almost always in demand. Rare types are in greater demand. So they're not throwing yours out.

If you did want to think about this in terms of a blood economy, consider that a higher percentage of people can accept your blood than the percentage from which you can accept blood. That means your blood is in net demand.

Either way, it saves lives. Donate.
posted by Ahab at 8:02 AM on November 15, 2010

Think of it this way:

O- is the universal donor, which makes it very valuable, because it can be given to anyone at any time. That means when you have an emergency and you don't have time to get the recipient's blood type, or you don't have the recipient's blood type available, you can give them O-.

But every donation of every other type frees up a donation of that very valuable O- to be used in precisely the situations where O- is most valuable, instead of using it in places where there is time to type the patient and get in an appropriate blood supply. That makes all other kinds of donations almost as valuable as the O- was in the first place.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:06 AM on November 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Back in the day, hospitals in the Boston area kept lists of willing donors with unusual blood types. My father, also B-, occasionally received telephone calls from hospitals with needs that could not be met through the regional system.

I also grew up in the Boston area and my mom would get these calls for being AB+, which is also my blood type. This also got me into an interesting cancer research study where they needed healthy AB+ blood and would pay you for it instead of giving you cookies and a sticker. It's always better to have an exact type match than just a tolerated type.
posted by jessamyn at 8:08 AM on November 15, 2010

Think of it from the perspective of someone needing blood. The rarer the blood, the harder it is to find. Of course, as you noted, the demand is also lower for rare types so some donations may expire and be disposed before they're used. Conversely, if a patient needs a certain blood type, they may have to look far afield to find it. At that point, it's invaluable. For the more common blood types, there are lots more donors (albeit lots more potential recipients as well) so a unit of blood is easier to locate and more likely to be used before it expires.

As it was explained to me by my local bloodbank, the notion of universal donors and universal recipients only goes so far. For patients with compromised health, or those receiving multiple pints of blood, every effort is made to match the blood types to minimize the stress on their system associated with absorbing a different blood type.
posted by DrGail at 8:08 AM on November 15, 2010

I work at a blood bank in Louisiana. I hope this answers some of your questions. I'll keep an eye on this page today in case you have any more questions.

The relative "value" of red blood cells depends on both the percentage of people who have your blood type (in your local area and also the general population) and also the cross-match transfusibility.

B- can receive blood from B- and O- only. O- is the only blood type that can only receive blood from people with the same blood type.

As a blood bank, we are really always looking for *all* blood types, but we usually say we have "special need for O's and B's" (particularly O- and B-).

Most people are only familiar with whole blood donations, but actually we also have special types of donations called "apheresis" that can collect a concentrated amount of just one part of your blood (platelets and/or plasma). Platelet and plasma matching are opposite of red cell matching - so someone like me who is A+ would be best giving platelets/plasma. However from a B- donor we would still recommend whole blood donation (or double red-cell)

(BTW I don't work for Puget Sound but their website is much better than ours!)
posted by radioamy at 8:12 AM on November 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Well, I just spent too much of my life trying to make this pretty, and metafilter is laughing at me. So if someone else wants to throw themselves on that grenade, be my guest. It's a 7-column chart.

Type Rh Freq Gives to Gives to Gets from Can receive from
A + 35.70% A+, AB+ 39.10% A+, O+, A-, O- 86.00%
B + 8.50% B+, AB+ 11.90% B+, O+, B-, O- 54.00%
AB + 3.40% AB+ 3.40% A+, B+, AB+, O+, A-, B-, AB-, O- 100.00%

O + 37.40% A+, B+, AB+, O+85.00% O+, O- 44.00%
A - 6.30% A-, A+, AB-, AB+46.00% A-, O- 12.90%
B - 1.50% B-, B+, AB-, AB+14.00% B-, O- 8.10%
AB - 0.60% AB-, AB+ 4.00% AB-, A-, B-, O- 15.00%
O - 6.60% A+, B+, AB+, O+, A-, B-, AB-, O- 100.00% O- 6.60%

It tells you that B- is particularly valuable, not because it can serve a lot of people, but the people who it can serve can't receive a lot of the blood that's available. B- people can only receive blood from O- and B- people (8.10% of the population), and AB - people can only receive from 15% of the population. So when the blood supply goes critical, those are the groups that are going to get hit hardest.
posted by endless_forms at 8:39 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm O- and donated pretty often when I was in school and the donor clinics came to campus. My impression was that as far as Canadian Blood Services was concerned all blood was valuable.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:43 AM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I, with my O+ blood, was never asked specifically to return.

FWIW, my husband and I get called for out O+ blood. It's in demand because it can be given to a large percentage of the American population.

Also, caveat on the above chart: it's for Americans considered as a population; blood types and their proportions are ethnicity dependent, so the percentages of blood types is going to reflect the ethnic background of the population.
posted by endless_forms at 8:45 AM on November 15, 2010

I have O+ blood too and I get letters from the Red Cross specifically asking me to donate. However, I have always wondered if they say that to all the girls.
posted by cabingirl at 8:51 AM on November 15, 2010

To clear up the O+ question, yes O+ is "useful" since it can be given to half of all recipients.
posted by radioamy at 9:03 AM on November 15, 2010

Damn, I have been meaning to drop by the clinic on campus and give for about a year now, but I never seem to get around to it. I should probably call my doc first and check if the meds I'm on will screw anything up first though. Thanks for giving me a reminder to look into it.
posted by Canageek at 9:04 AM on November 15, 2010

Actually, O+ can be given to 85% of the US population. It can be given to anyone Rh+.
posted by endless_forms at 9:08 AM on November 15, 2010

There is also more to it than just blood type. I used to be on a special frequent donor rotation at the local blood bank because I was CMV negative, which is apparently unusual.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:16 AM on November 15, 2010

I've been a regular donor for years, and usually get poked right on or immediately after my 56-day waiting period is over. I really enjoy it, and I know firsthand the value my donation can have.

Every pint of whole blood you donate has the potential to save at least two or three lives (blood bank/medical people, back me up/correct me on this), since the blood can be separated into its component parts after the fact. If it's not a big deal for you, do it as often as you can. It's a huge deal to the recipient(s).

Have they told you your CMV status? I'm O+, CMV negative, which makes my very popular and common blood a little more valuable because it can be transfused into infants and patients with compromised immune system.

This is a little rambling, but my point is, to the OP and everyone else - donate. It does GOOD.
posted by yiftach at 9:28 AM on November 15, 2010

I'm jealous of my mom because she is CMV negative and I am not. So she get's called in all the time as part of the "baby brigade", because her blood can be given to immuno-compromized infants and mine cannot. (plus she gets an awesome baby sticker) So, I would definitely find your CMZ status. Maybe it would further incentivize your giving?
posted by lizjohn at 9:29 AM on November 15, 2010

Thousands of people on MeFi, and the only two to mention CMV in a blood donation thread do it at the same time. Love it.
posted by yiftach at 9:31 AM on November 15, 2010

OK, THREE people...
posted by yiftach at 9:31 AM on November 15, 2010

lizjohn and yiftach - you are very right about being CMV-negative. It's not something we tell all donors about because it can be a little alarming (it doesn't generally matter to your own personal health if you've had CMV or not) but yes, we often need CMV-neg blood. Especially "baby units" for newborns, we need O-neg, CMV-neg.

There are also a lot of very specific antibodies, antigens, and other markers that are in your blood. Some patients end up needing very specific matching But don't worry about that!
posted by radioamy at 9:42 AM on November 15, 2010

(ignore the CMZ part. Pretend I can type correctly)
posted by lizjohn at 10:28 AM on November 15, 2010

Yes, your blood is valuable for all the reasons listed. Back when I had a car, I made it a point to do apheresis donations every 2 weeks, as I'm A+ with rocket high iron and a special enjoyment of being a macho lady.

So, give something as often as you can.
posted by bilabial at 11:13 AM on November 15, 2010

Blood types with unusual antibodies can be incredibly valuable, in the monetary but especially in the life-saving sense: like James Harrison, "an Australian man [whose donations of] his extremely rare kind of blood for 56 years has saved the lives of more than two million babies."

Check out The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, a fascinating history of the titular woman and the immortal cell line which originated from her. Of possible specific interest to you is the stuff about the historical use of rare tissue/blood types, and cases of modern patients with rare genetic properties taking out patents on their genes to control their use and potential profits.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:22 PM on November 15, 2010

You're very noble for donating blood (not all of us are elegible. i'm not due to my anemia). but it seems a little glib to suggest that because of blood type your blood is "worth" more than anyone else's. Canada's blood banks are always in demand for healthy blood -- you're saving lives regardless of your blood type.

BTW, if you're of the same mind as me, tell them next time you go in how disgraceful it is that in Canada, homosexuals are not able to give blood.
posted by custard heart at 9:21 PM on November 15, 2010

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