Rare Blood Program
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.
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.
Rare blood FAQs
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.
How do I get tested to see if I have rare blood?
Preliminary testing for rare antigens can be done on a blood donation, through blood samples or by a buccal swab sample that you mail in to us. Contact us at 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283) and we’ll discuss your options and arrange for the best testing method for you.
How will I find out about my test results?
We’ll let you know about your rare blood status by phone or mail. If your testing was done through a blood sample or buccal swab, confirmation testing will be completed on your first donation.
If I have rare blood, do my siblings also have rare blood?
Since blood types are inherited, there’s a one-in-four chance your brothers and sisters will have the same rare blood type as you. If you know your blood type is rare, we encourage you to speak with your siblings and ask them to consider becoming a rare blood donor by contacting us at 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283) to arrange for testing.
How often can I donate?
You can give blood every eight to 12 weeks. We depend on our rare donors to give blood regularly and be available in times of need. When a specific rare blood type is in urgent need, and supplies have been depleted, we will call our rare donors to ask them to donate right away. If we call you, it means your blood is needed immediately or our inventory of your specific type has fallen below optimal levels.
What if I cannot donate when asked?
There are many reasons why you may not be able to donate when asked. We understand that it’s not always possible to donate — but would ask you to do so as you are able.
What if my test results show I don’t have rare blood?
Even if you don’t have rare blood, we still encourage you to donate whole blood. Remember, every donation is valuable and can save lives. Call us at 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283) to book an appointment to donate.
Should I tell my doctor I have rare blood?
Yes. Information about your rare blood type is important in some medical situations — if you ever need a blood transfusion or during pregnancy, for example. We can provide a letter explaining your rare type that you can take to your doctor.
Will my privacy be protected if I become a rare blood donor?
If you decide to participate in our Rare Blood Program, we’ll need to collect and use some personal information about you. That personal information is not shared with the International Rare Donor Panel (IRDP). We provide just the details about your rare blood type to the IRDP.