Hepatitis C is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. It transmits between people through contact with blood containing the infection. Doctors can treat the virus with direct-acting antiviral medicines to the point where a person is in sustained remission. However, people who have had the virus at any time cannot donate blood or plasma.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that as many as 85% of people with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) will develop a long-term, or chronic, infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that most people do not experience any symptoms of this infection and may not be aware that they have the virus.

According to the CDC, 2.4 million people in the United States are living with chronic HCV infection. The organization recommends that every adult in the U.S. undergoes testing for HCV infection at least once in their lifetime.

In this article, we discuss why people who have had hepatitis C cannot donate plasma and whether they can become organ donors. We also look at the other infections that the medical community screens blood products for before giving them to the recipient.

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According to the American Red Cross, if a person has ever tested positive for HCV, they are not allowed to donate blood or plasma. This is because antibodies in the blood can be harmful to the person receiving the sample.

A 2020 report in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report states that since 1991, the Public Health Service has recommended testing all whole blood and plasma donations for HCV, as well as organs for transplant.

Learn about hepatitis C viral loads.

A person cannot donate plasma or blood if they have ever tested positive for HCV. This remains the case after they have received treatment.

Even after doctors have reduced the virus to undetectable levels in a person with an HCV infection, the person will likely test positive for antibodies, as these proteins remain in the blood.

The CDC recommends screening all blood products for bacteria, viruses, parasites, and prions to reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted infections. These tests look for markers of disease and are not the same as the diagnostic tests that doctors use during other testing procedures.

In the case of HCV, the screening test indicates that a person has HCV antibodies in their blood. Additional tests are necessary to determine whether the virus is active and whether treatment is required. The blood transfusion service’s duty of care extends to informing the person of their HCV antibody status, offering counseling, and referring them for additional medical support.

Learn more about the hepatitis C antibody test.

What other conditions does blood screening identify?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety of blood and plasma. It regularly tests for:

Due to medical advances, a person who has had HCV can now donate organs in certain circumstances.

In 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services published new guidelines for organ transplant. These allow people who test positive for HCV antibodies to donate organs to people who do not have these antibodies.

Before this, organ transplants from people with HCV were allowed, but under the label of “increased risk.” In 2017, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) reported that doctors were less likely to use organs from increased risk donors.

The OPTN added that this is likely based on a misconception of what the term means, as studies have shown that people who receive organs from increased risk donors have equal or better post-graft survival rates than those with non-increased risk transplants.

The new guidelines stress the continuing importance of testing, informed consent from the recipient, and follow-up tests to determine the HCV status of the recipient after transplant.

A 2019 report in F1000 Research states that this change in the guidance is due to advances in medical treatments, including direct-acting antivirals.

Currently, people who have tested positive for HCV at any stage in their life cannot donate plasma or blood. After screening, a blood donation center may defer them from donating these products due to the increased risk of infection for the recipient of the sample.

However, people who have had HCV may be eligible to become organ donors.

New guidelines reflect medical advances in diagnosing and treating HCV, increasing the availability of organs for transplant.