Health Information and Tools > Health A-Z >  Blood Transfusions for Children

Main Content

Alberta Blood Transfusion Information

For Children

​​​​​​​​​​​​​What is a blood transfusion?

  • A blood transfusion is when someone is given a blood product. The blood is usually given through an intravenous (IV).  An IV is a small tube or needle that is put into a vein in your child’s hand or arm.
  • A blood transfusion is usually given over four hours, but can be given faster.
  • Doctors or nurse practitioners can order blood transfusions.

Why does my child need a transfusion?

A blood transfusion is sometimes needed for certain kinds of illnesses, injuries, or types of surgery. Sometimes more than one transfusion is needed.

What blood components can be transfused?

Your child will only get the part of the blood that is needed. The different parts of blood that can be transfused are:

Red Blood Cells

  • Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. All of the organs in the body (especially the heart, brain, and kidney) need oxygen to work properly.


  • Platelets are small, sticky cells that make plugs on walls of vessels. This helps to prevent and/or stop bleeding.


  • Plasma is the clear, liquid part of the blood that has proteins in it. These proteins help the blood to clot. Plasma can be given with platelets to prevent and/or stop bleeding.

Blood Products Made From Plasma

Plasma can be used to make products to:

  • treat certain illnesses (e.g., factors for hemophilia)
  • help fight infections (e.g., immunoglobulins)

Where does blood come from?

  • In Alberta, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) collects blood from healthy, volunteer donors. All donors are asked questions about health, travel, and social history before blood is collected. This is to make sure that the blood is as safe as possible.
  • The blood that is donated is tested for different diseases. If there is a problem, the donor is not allowed to give blood again. Blood that does not pass testing is thrown away.
  • After the blood is tested, it is separated into all of the different parts (e.g., red blood cells, platelets).
  • When a blood component is needed, a sample is collected from the person that needs the transfusion. Tests are done on the blood. This is to make sure that the person’s blood will match with the donated blood.
  • What are the benefits of getting a blood transfusion?

  • If someone has a low level of red blood cells, it can cause damage to the organs in the body. This is from a lack of oxygen. A blood transfusion can fix a problem or prevent damage from happening.
  • Platelets and plasma stop bleeding by helping the blood to clot.

Are there risks when getting a blood transfusion?

The blood supply in Canada is one of the safest in the world. Getting blood always has some risk. The risk of getting different diseases for each unit of blood is:

  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) - 1 in 21 million
  • Hepatitis C - 1 in 13 million
  • Hepatitis B - 1 in 7.5 million
  • West Nile virus - less tha​n 1 in 1 million

Do children ever have reactions to transfusions?

Sometimes your child can have a reaction to a blood transfusion (transfusion reaction). Some kinds of reactions are:

​Allergic Reaction

  • This reaction is common. It is usually mild. Your child might get itching or a rash. Allergic reactions are treated by your child’s doctor. Very bad allergic reactions (e.g., breathing problems) are rare. If your child has had an allergic reaction with a transfusion before, tell your doctor. This is to try to prevent a reaction from happening again.

Fever Reaction

  • This reaction is not common. It usually happens during or shortly after a transfusion. With this kind of reaction, your child can have fever, chills, and/or flushing. If your child has had a fever reaction with a transfusion before, tell your doctor. This is to try to prevent a reaction from happening again.

Hemolytic Reaction

  • This reaction is rare. It can be very bad and sometimes very dangerous. It happens when your child’s blood attacks the transfused blood. There are steps taken (e.g., blood testing, preparing blood) to make sure that the chance of this kind of reaction is low.

​Can my child get blood from a family member?

There are two ways to do this:
  • Autologous Donation is when blood is collected from someone so that it can be used for transfusion at a later time. Autologous blood does still have risks. This is not done very often in Canada, and is considered only in special circumstances. Your surgeon can help you make this decision. This is not always an option, especially with small children.
  • Directed Donation is when someone donates blood for a specific person (e.g., a parent donating blood for a child under the age of 18 is the only time this is done in Canada). Directed donation is not always possible, and is not considered safer than regular donated blood. Someone that wants to donate blood for a child must meet the same standards as other blood donors. Your doctor can help you decide if a directed donation is appropriate.

Are there other options to having a blood transfusion?

Blood Substitutes

  • Artificial clotting factors are used in certain bleeding conditions (e.g., hemophilia). There are no artificial blood substitutes for red blood cell or platelet transfusions.

Other Alternatives

  • Medications like erythropoietin (EPO, Eprex®) and iron can increase the red blood cells your child’s body makes.
  • Medications (e.g., antifibrinolytics) can be given to help prevent bleeding.
  • IV fluids can increase the amount of fluid in your child’s arteries and veins.
  • There are ways to decrease the amount of blood that is lost during or after surgery using special equipment or techniques.
  • Alternatives do have some risks. For more information, talk to your child’s doctor.
If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your child’s doctor (or whoever ordered your blood component).​​​​

Current as of: June 15, 2018

Author: Transfusion Medicine Safety Program, Alberta Health Services