- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

The metropolitan area is heading into the summer with a critically low blood supply, according to the American Red Cross and Inova Blood Services.

Blood banks often run short in the summer but usually not until July.

"It is hitting us a lot earlier than it usually does," said Hector Garcia, chief operating officer for the Washington region of the Red Cross. "As summer kicks in, people get kind of busy, and they forget there is a constant need for blood."

The Red Cross currently has less than half a day's supply of blood for types O and B, and needs about three to four days' supply for each blood type. For other blood types, it has between a day and two days' supply, which is still below normal.

The Red Cross supplies blood to 83 hospitals within the Washington region, which includes southeastern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Inova Blood Services, which supplies blood to 11 hospitals in Northern Virginia, the District and Maryland, has less than a day's supply for all blood types.

"We aren't able to fill all the orders that our hospitals ask for," said Jeanne Lumadue, medical director with Inova.

Supplies are not so low that hospitals are canceling surgeries, Dr. Lumadue said, but Inova must evaluate orders closely as they come in from hospitals. "It makes everyone uptight. There is not as much blood to choose from," she said.

The Red Cross needs to collect about 1,100 units a day to keep the supply at a normal level. Inova needs to collect about 175 units of blood a day.

Less than 5 percent of the population in the Washington area that can donate actually does, according to both agencies.

"If everyone who were eligible to donate would donate once or twice a year, we wouldn't have blood shortages," Dr. Lumadue said.

The current shortage has been exacerbated by new restrictions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that have narrowed the field of eligible donors, Dr. Lumadue said.

On May 31, the FDA issued regulations to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, barring blood donations from people who have lived in the United Kingdom for more than three months or in any other Western European country for more than five years.

The regulations hit the Washington area hard because its large pool of military donors is ineligible if they have lived in Europe for six months or more.

The Red Cross and Inova would rely on excess blood supplies from other areas of the country when they run low, but there isn't any excess blood to be found.

Mr. Garcia said the Red Cross has many blood drives at schools and universities, which do not host them in the summer.

In addition, Mr. Garcia thinks people still believe there is plenty of blood because of excess supplies after September 11. "People don't realize the fact that blood only lasts 42 days," he said.

Inova has had difficulty in getting people who donated for the first time after September 11 to return.

The blood banks are struggling to increase supplies during a time of year when donations are typically low.

"It is tough to play catch-up once you are behind," Dr. Lumadue said.

People interested in donating can call 866/BLOOD SAVE for Inova and 800/GIVE LIFE for the Red Cross.

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