Transfusion risks

Australia has one of the safest blood supplies in the world, and there are a few reasons for this:


For starters, we only collect blood from voluntary, unpaid donors. Every donor fills out a questionnaire and is interviewed about their exposure to anything that could affect their blood and suitability to donate. Then, we do a lot of testing to ensure blood safety.

Understanding the risks

To provide informed consent, it’s important you understand the risks.

The most avoidable transfusion risk is being given the wrong blood (meant for someone else). The clinical staff will make careful identification checks before any transfusion to ensure the right blood goes to the right patient.   


Most people feel fine during a transfusion. In fact, many don’t feel any different. Reactions from receiving a transfusion are uncommon, and usually mild.

However, some rare but serious reactions can occur during a transfusion or in the next few weeks.


Signs of a transfusion reaction may include: 

  • rash
  • hives
  • nausea
  • chest pain
  • high temperature
  • dark or decreased amount of urine
  • shaking
  • itching
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • pain at the needle site.

How the risks compare

Have a look at how the risks of receiving a single unit transfusion compare to some other, everyday Australian-based health risks:


Transfusion risk
Chance it might happen
Health risk
Chance it might happen
Febrile non-haemolytic transfusion reaction


Dementia before age 65




Community acquired new HIV infection (2016)


Transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI)


Diagnosed breast cancer in men


Septic reaction: Platelets


Death by falling out of bed or off a chair


Septic reaction: Red cells

Less than 1:1,000,000

Having quadruplets

Less than 1:1,000,000

Transfusion-transmitted hepatitis B virus (HBV)
Transfusion-transmitted hepatitis C virus (HCV)

Less than 1:1,000,000

Death from lightning strike

Less than 1:1,000,000

Transfusion-transmitted human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Less than 1:1,000,000

Blindness from laser surgery

Less than 1:1,000,000


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