“Blood bags, sorted by type, line a tray at a hospital. Some blood types are more common than others. ER Productions Limited/Getty Images
If you’ve ever searched the internet for the rarest blood type, you may have come up with more questions than answers. The short answer: AB negative is the rarest of the eight main blood types. Less than 1 percent of American donors are AB negative, according to the American Red Cross. AB negative blood is rare across the world, though percentages can range from 0.06 percent to 3 percent of a country’s population.
But the truth is, there are dozens of other blood types far rarer than AB, and newer, even rarer, ones could yet be discovered.
Before we get into those super-rare blood types, let’s step back and look at what blood is made of. Everyone’s blood, regardless of their type, contains plasma. Suspended in plasma are the following components:
- White blood cells, which fight infection
- Platelets, which aid in clotting
- Red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout the body and remove carbon dioxide
On the surface of the red blood cells are proteins and sugars called antigens. They serve as markers to characterize each cell type. There are four main antigens that make up the four main blood groups. They are known as A, B, AB and O.
A blood types have the A antigen, B blood types have the B antigen, and AB blood types have both A and B antigens. O blood types, however, have neither A nor B antigens. These ABO blood types are further classified as Rh positive or Rh negative. Rh, formerly known as Rhesus, is another protein that is found on the surface of red blood cells. People who have this Rh factor on their red blood cells are Rh positive. Those who do not are Rh negative.
This positive or negative attribute divides the four major blood groups into eight types. The population breakdown in the U.S. is as follows, according to the Stanford Blood Center:
- O positive – 37.4%
- O negative – 6.6%
- A positive – 35.7%
- A negative – 6.3%
- B positive – 8.5%
- B negative – 1.5%
- AB positive – 3.4%
- AB negative – 0.6%
If you’re interested in knowing breakdowns for other countries, you can check out this chart at BabyMed.com. Since blood type is genetic, some countries will have more of one blood type than another, depending on the ethnic makeup of the country.
Knowing your blood type is important because it tells medical professionals which blood you can receive in the event you need to undergo a blood transfusion. Receiving the wrong blood type could result in a life-threatening immune response. People who have the AB positive blood type are called "universal recipients," meaning they can receive blood from people with any blood type (but they can only donate to people with their blood type). People with O negative blood are called "universal donors" as their blood type is compatible with all other blood types (but they can only receive O negative blood). People with O positive blood can donate to other positive blood types (like A positive or AB positive), which is about 80 percent of the U.S. population, making O blood in high demand, whether positive or negative.
People with rarer blood types face challenges when it comes to transfusions as finding compatible donors in times of crisis can be difficult.
The Rarest Blood Types
It is possible for someone to have a complete absence of Rh antigens. These people have a blood type referred to as Rhnull. It was first discovered about 50 years ago in an Aboriginal Australian and is extremely rare — less than 50 people have been known to have Rhnull blood.
Rhnull is sometimes referred to as "golden blood." That’s because it’s worth its weight in gold, at least in the sense that it is considered a "universal" blood that anyone with rare types of blood within the Rh system could use in times of crisis. But the crux is that people with Rhnull blood can only receive blood from Rhnull donors.
There are other types of blood that are as rare, if not rarer, than Rhnull. As of 2019, the International Society of Blood Transfusion, a scientific society that promotes the study of blood transfusions, recognized 360 blood group antigens of which 322 were clustered within 36 blood group systems. It noted that the remaining 38 antigens were currently unassigned to a known system.
These numbers are ever-changing, with new blood group antigens being added to the various blood group systems and, occasionally, antigens being made obsolete based on new data. What all that means is that it’s somewhat impossible to determine which is the rarest blood type of them all.
Now That’s Interesting
It is very rare — but possible — for someone’s blood type to change. This can occur through the addition or suppression of an antigen, which can happen during an infection, malignancy or because of an autoimmune disease. Another cause of blood type changing happens during a bone marrow transplant. People who receive bone marrow from someone with a different ABO type will eventually switch to the donor’s blood type.
Originally Published: Dec 16, 2020
Rarest Blood Type FAQ
What is the most uncommon blood type?
Only 0.6% of the population in the United States has AB negative blood.
What is golden blood?
Golden blood is a nickname for Rh-null, the rarest type of blood in the world. This blood group doesn’t contain any of the 61 possible Rh antigens. Less than 50 individuals around the globe have this blood group.
Why is O negative the universal donor?
People with O negative blood are called ‘universal donors’ because their blood is compatible with all other blood types, though people with O negative blood can only receive O negative blood. About 6.6% of the U.S. population has O negative blood.
Are there drawbacks of being Rh negative?
Only 15% of the U.S. population is Rh negative and unfortunately it comes with some challenges. Those who are Rh negative tend to be more prone to certain types of allergies, more likely to miscarry a fetus, and may be less protected against certain diseases and illnesses due to the last of antigens.
Are there benefits of being Rh negative?
People who are Rh negative tend to have greater oxygen capacity and may have a natural resistance to certain diseases like HIV.