What You Need to Know About Rare Blood
Did you know that some people’s blood is rarer than others? It’s not just about being type A, B, O or AB. On the surface of our red blood cells are proteins called antigens. There are more than 600 known antigens — and some combinations of antigens are far less common than others.
Whenever a blood transfusion is required, time is of the essence. But if someone in need has rare blood, finding a matching donor can be hard. Through our Rare Blood Program, we make sure lifesaving rare blood is available to patients whenever and wherever it’s needed. To deliver on that promise, we need everyone with rare blood to donate regularly.
How do I know if I have rare blood?
You have rare blood if only one person in 500 has the same combination of antigens as you do. And if only one in 1,000 people has your same combination, your blood is considered very rare.
If you’re a regular blood donor, we may have already determined that your blood is rare. We often test donated blood when we identify a patient with a long-term illness who will have an ongoing need for a specific rare blood type, or when there’s an overall shortage of a certain blood type in Canada.
Because antigens are inherited — like eye or hair colour — we also follow up with family members of known rare donors or patients with rare blood types. That way, we can target our specialized testing to those who are most likely to have rare blood.
How do I donate rare blood?
To see if you have lifesaving rare blood in you to give, contact us at 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283) and we’ll arrange for the best testing method for you. Rare blood donors can give blood every eight to 12 weeks — but may also be called upon as needed if their specific rare blood type is urgently required.
Saving lives around the world
Rare blood is rare all over the world, not just in Canada — making it important for national and international blood operators to work together. At Canadian Blood Services, we’re proud to partner with the International Rare Donor Panel (IRDP).
Each unit of rare blood can be frozen in long-term storage so it can made available when it’s needed most. But if no units of a rare blood type are available in any of our facilities — and if no donors can come in and donate right away — we contact the IRDP. It searches through a database of more than 5,000 rare donors in 27 countries to find someone whose blood type matches that of the patient in need. It then asks the facility with the matching donor to send the rare blood (if already on hand) or call in the donor to donate the needed blood.
This partnership helps ensure patient needs for rare blood are met here in Canada. And because Canadian donors are part of the IRDP database, we can do our part in helping other countries meet their patients’ rare blood transfusion needs.