Additional testing for Hepatitis B (HBV)

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) will begin testing on 30th May 2022 to find out whether donors have had Hepatitis B in the past. We expect that only a small number of donors will have had previous Hepatitis B infection. However, these donors will no longer be able to donate.

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis B Virus. The virus is most commonly transmitted from mother to child during birth and delivery, as well as through contact with blood or other body fluids during sex with an infected partner, unsafe injections or exposures to sharp instruments.

Hepatitis B often does not cause any obvious symptoms in adults, and typically passes in a few months without treatment.

Hepatitis B is common in many parts of the world including South and South-East Asia, the Middle and Far East, southern Europe and Africa, but it is less common in Northern Ireland.

Don’t you test for Hepatitis B already?

Yes. All blood donations are routinely tested for tested for Hepatitis B as well as Hepatitis C, Hepatitis E, HIV, HTLV and Syphilis. This additional test is designed to find out whether a donor has had Hepatitis B in the past, and is being put in place to further enhance the safety of the blood supply.

How do you test for Hepatitis B?

  • Since 1972, we have tested blood donors for Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). This is the protein which coats the virus.
  • In 2010, we also began testing for Hepatitis B DNA, the genetic code of the virus itself. This increased our ability to detect donors with active Hepatitis B.
  • In 2022, we will start testing all donors for anti-Hepatitis B core (anti-HBc) antibodies. This will allow us to identify donors who have previously had Hepatitis B.

What happens after you test my blood?

Donors with negative results

Most donors have negative Hepatitis B test results and hear no more from us (we only get in touch if your Hepatitis B test is positive). If all test results are satisfactory, we can use your gift to treat patients and you can keep giving blood.

  • False reactions

On occasion, the tests used in NIBTS will produce false positive results. Because of our operational procedures, NIBTS cannot use a donation if it gives a false reaction. If a donor’s blood causes a false reaction, we will write to let you know. The false reaction does not mean that there is anything wrong with your health, and there is no need for you to see a doctor or have any additional tests. You will be able to donate again once the reaction has cleared, and we will check this by taking samples rather than a full donation when you next come to give blood.

Donors with positive results

  • Active Hepatitis B

We rarely find donors with positive HBsAg and Hepatitis B DNA results. If we do, our medical team will get in touch to tell you your results, what they mean for you, and what needs to happen next. They will ask permission to tell your GP, and to refer you to appropriate follow-up services. They will also give you information which helps to explain your test results and diagnosis. NIBTS is required by law to notify Public Health whenever anyone is diagnosed with Hepatitis B. Unfortunately, you will no longer be able to give blood.

  • Previous Hepatitis B

We expect that only a small number of donors will have had previous Hepatitis B infection. Most people who have anti-HBc antibodies will have cleared Hepatitis B; have undetectable levels of virus in their bloodstream; and will have experienced no symptoms.

If you are found positive for anti-HBc antibodies, our medical team will get in touch to tell you your results, and what they mean for you. They will also ask permission to tell your GP.

You won’t need any routine medical reviews or treatment as you no longer have active infection. However, you will no longer be eligible to give blood. This decision has been made to allow us to begin the complex testing programme promptly and safely and may be reviewed in the future.

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service’s priorities are providing a safe blood supply for patients, and a safe experience for donors, and we constantly strive to improve both. The patients who receive your gift cannot thank you themselves, so on their behalf, thank you.

Posted in NIBTS.