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January 14, 2019

American Red Cross issues emergency call for blood donors to stem shortage

Blood supplies fall to critical levels following holiday season

Health News American Red Cross
American_Red_Cross_blood_donation_shortage Harry Lynch/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS/Sipa USA

North Carolina state employee David Wainwright gives identifying information to American Red Cross phlebotomist Chris Culpepper on July 6, 2016 before beginning his blood donation during a four-hour Red Cross blood drive in the Archdale Building on the Legislative mall in Raleigh, N.C.

The American Red Cross issued an emergency appeal for blood and platelet donations on Monday, noting national supplies have diminished to the most critical level.

The Red Cross has less than a three-day supply of most blood types, officials said. The shortage stems from the holiday season, when the organization collected about 27,000 fewer blood and platelet donations than needed.

The shortage is compounded by the winter months, when weather conditions and seasonal illnesses typically cause a drop-off in donations. In December, winter weather nearly doubled the number of uncollected donations recorded in December 2017.

"We are working every day to restock hospital shelves with lifesaving blood products for patients," Red Cross Blood Services President Chris Hrouda said in a statement. "And right now, we need all healthy, eligible individuals to give blood and platelets as soon as possible to ensure we can meet patient needs."

The Red Cross must collect more than 13,000 blood donations every day to meet hospital and patient demand, including 800 in the Penn Jersey region, an area that includes all of New Jersey, Delaware and the five Southeastern Pennsylvania counties.

The Penn Jersey regional blood supply also has dipped below a three-day supply.

"During the week between Christmas and New Year's, in our local region, we collected approximately 800 fewer donations than we needed, which helped to create the current emergency shortage," Alana Mauger, communications manager for Red Cross Blood Services for the Penn Jersey region, said in an email.

The Red Cross particularly urged people with the blood type O to schedule an appointment to donate. Type O-positive, the most transfused blood type, can be transfused to people with Rh-positive blood – the most common type.

Type O-negative can be given to people with any blood type. Emergency room personnel use O-negative blood when there is no time to determine a patient's blood type. Only 7 percent of Americans have O-negative blood.

The Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood and blood components. Blood products are commonly used during organ transplant surgeries, trauma care and cancer treatments. Patients with sickle cell disease, autoimmune disorders and other chronic illnesses also often need blood products.

Blood products are perishable. Red blood cells must be used within 42 days of donation. For platelets, a critical clotting component often needed by cancer patients, the shelf life is even shorter – five days.

"The need is constant," said Guy Triano, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania. "It's more important more than ever with our winter season approaching. At times, blood drives get cancelled because of the weather. ... We're looking now to increase our donations to get that blood supply up on hand."

To be eligible to donate blood, individuals must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in generally good health. There is no age cap to donate.

The American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania hosts about 25 blood drives each weekday, Triano said. It holds another 15-20 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Potential donors can find a list of public blood drives by visiting RedCrossBlood.org. They also can schedule an appointment on the website or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.

January marks National Blood Donation Month.


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