- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2003

Area hospitals may postpone transfusions and surgeries in the next few weeks because area blood banks are struggling with a shortage of donations.

“People who need transfusions for cancer have had them put off,” said Nancy Deane, spokeswoman for Virginia Blood Services. “There are going to be some surgeries put off. People are going to die if we don’t get enough blood.”

Blood shortages are typical during summer because many potential donors are on vacation, while blood drives are usually held at businesses and schools. But this year has been unusually bad, said Dr. Joan Gibble, medical director of the Red Cross Greater Chesapeake and Potomac region.

“This has been one of the worst collection years I’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Gibble, a Red Cross worker for 14 years. “If it continues this way we just can’t continue to support the hospitals. This is the worst I’ve seen it in many, many years.”



Virginia Blood Services, which services all Richmond and Charlottesville hospitals, has less than a two days’ supply of blood. The American Red Cross of the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac region, which serves 80 hospitals from Northern Virginia to Pennsylvania, has less than a day’s supply. Spokeswoman Tracy Laubach said normally the Red Cross has a seven-day supply. Blood banks are especially in need of blood types O and B.

Inova Blood Donor Services, headquartered in Fairfax County, hopes to draw new donors with Independence Day cake and T-shirts, which will be given to all donors through tomorrow. The Red Cross also urges businesses to set up blood drives and people to donate before taking vacations.

“Make donating blood a priority before you begin your holiday plans,” Miss Laubach asked.

As blood supplies drop, hospitals more stringently evaluate patients’ need for transfusions and may use other techniques, such as blood salvage, during surgeries, said Dr. Paul Ness, director of transfusion medicine at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, which gets much of its blood from the Red Cross.

Non-emergency surgeries may also be postponed, Dr. Ness said.

“It gets very uncomfortable. I get placed in the situation where I have to call doctors who are about to do very major surgery on very sick people and say, ‘We only have this much, you might want to postpone it,’” Dr. Ness said. “I don’t like to be in the situation of having to choose who might get blood.”

Additional restrictions on donors have made the situation worse. Donor screening for the West Nile virus began this week, after at least 23 persons were infected through transfusions last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The first infected donor was discovered Thursday in Texas. No human cases of West Nile virus have been reported this year, but the virus has been found in mosquitoes and animals in 28 states, according to the CDC.

The genetic test, which is also used to detect HIV and hepatitis C, can quickly identify viruses in the bloodstream, unlike older tests that could detect only antibodies, Dr. Gibble said. Donors that test positive are deferred for 28 days.

Federal Food and Drug Administration guidelines also prevent anyone with flulike symptoms from donating, which removes many potential donors from the already-diminished summer applicant pool.

“Most people are so worried about the blood, they’re going to call us back with symptoms that are so small,” Dr. Gibble said. “Every time you add a new question you lose a few people because they can’t donate.”

The FDA also restricts those who have traveled to areas affected by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from donating for 14 days after their return to the United States.

One regular Red Cross donor was deferred because he had changed flights in Toronto, Dr. Gibble said.

“We’ve caught a lot of people that have been very loyal donors, but they travel or they go on vacations,” Dr. Gibble said. “All of the sudden they can’t donate and they’ve been longtime donors and that’s very tough. It has had an effect on people that were eligible before.”

Other restrictions are in place for persons vaccinated for smallpox as well as those who may be carriers of Creutztfeldt-Jakob disease, or mad cow disease.

“All of these things add up,” Dr. Gibble said. “It is very grave,”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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