Human blood is grouped into four types: A, B, AB, and O. Each letter refers to a kind of antigen, or protein, on the surface of red blood cells. For example, the surface of red blood cells in Type A blood has antigens known as A-antigens.
The Rh Factor
Each blood type is also grouped by its Rhesus factor, or Rh factor. Blood is either Rh positive (Rh+) or Rh negative (Rh-). About 85% of Americans have Rh+ blood.
Rhesus refers to another type of antigen, or protein, on the surface of red blood cells. The name Rhesus comes from Rhesus monkeys, in which the protein was discovered.
Blood types become very important when a blood transfusion is necessary. In a blood transfusion, a patient must receive a blood type that is compatible with his or her own blood type—that is, the donated blood must be accepted by the patient's own blood. If the blood types are not compatible, red blood cells will clump together, making clots that can block blood vessels and cause death.
Type O– blood is considered the “universal donor” because it can be donated to people of any blood type. Type AB+ blood is considered the “universal recipient” because people with this type can receive any blood type.
Did You Know?
More on Blood Types from Infoplease: