THE BLOOD SUPPLY is extremely safe today - safer, indeed, than it has ever been. And we are constantly working to improve that level of safety.

The estimated risk of HIV infection as a result of a blood transfusion immediately before testing was implemented in March 1985 was about 1 in 2,500. The current risk is estimated to be 1 in 225,000, a 99 percent decline.New tests are being developed and implemented all the time. The introduction of hepatitis C testing in May 1990 reduced the rate of infection with hepatitis C by more than 90 percent, and it is estimated that the introduction of an improved test in March 1992 has reduced that risk by another 40 percent.

Donors are carefully recruited and screened for risk factors related to HIV and other serious diseases.

The Red Cross makes every effort to recruit a healthy donor population. Every Red Cross donor is given a minimum of four separate opportunities each time he or she gives blood to understand his behavioral risks and to self-defer.

In addition to maintaining local records which identify all unsuitable donors, the Red Cross also maintains a national computerized database of over 250,000 donors (since the early 1970s) who are deferred from donating blood due to a history of risk-associated behavior, signs or symptoms that could be associated with various transmissible diseases or a positive result for any of the viruses tested.

Every donation received by the Red Cross is cross-checked against these Red Cross deferred donor lists to determine whether the blood should be destroyed based on past test results.

A 1989 study concludes that donor recruitment practices plus careful education, donor screening and the use of donor referral registries are eliminating 49 of every 50 donors likely to be HIV positive prior to donation.

The risk of contracting HIV from a blood transfusion today is extremely low. The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored studies suggest that the overall risk of HIV infection from a blood transfusion due to the donor being in the infectious "window period" (the time between infection and the formation of detectable antibodies) is approximately 1 in 225,000 per unit.

This means that a blood recipient is about 15 times less likely to receive a unit of HIV positive blood than an individual undergoing surgery is likely to have a fatal reaction to anesthesia.