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Difference between O positive and O negative blood

Updated June 13, 2017

Blood is typed according to the antigens, or factors that promote an immune response, on the red blood cells. Matching the blood by type and Rh factor of a donor and recipient greatly reduces the possibility of a serious allergic reaction to the foreign blood.

Type O

Blood types include A, B, AB, and O. Types A and B have antigen A and antigen B, respectively, on the surface of their red blood cells, and Type AB blood has both A and B. Type O blood has neither antigen.

Rh factor

Blood is also classified by the presence or absence of another antigen called the rhesus or Rh factor. O positive blood has the Rh factor, but neither antigens A or B; and O negative blood lacks the Rh factor as well as antigens A and B.

Donation

People with an O negative blood type are sometimes called "universal donors" because their blood has no antigens that would cause an allergic reaction in a recipient of another blood type. However, doctors would only use unmatched blood in an emergency.

Frequency

According to the Red Cross, O positive is the most common blood type across all ethnic groups. O negative blood is relatively rare.

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About the Author

In 20 years as a biologist, Susan T. McClure has contributed articles to scientific journals such as "Nature Genetics" and "American Journal of Physiology." She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She enjoys educating people about science and the challenge of making complex information accessible.