Blood Shortage

by Surya

Every day, emergency rooms around the nation see and treat patients with traumatic injuries that require transfusions. In these situations, each moment plays a critical role between life and death for these individuals. Obtaining a blood type is often not feasible; transfusions need to be performed immediately if there is to be any hope of survival. Of course, this heralds the question of exactly how doctors can provide transfusions without knowing the patient’s blood type (without jeopardizing their health).

Simply put, cases such as these require the “universal donor” of blood typesor O negative blood. Once the patient is stabilized, doctors can then determine their blood type and switch to the appropriate match; they may also continue to use O negative blood should there not be adequate supplies of the corresponding blood type. It is important to note that while O negative individuals can donate to anyone, they can only receive transfusions of other O negative blood[1]. Similarly, individuals with AB+ blood type are considered universal plasma donors[2]. Plasma is the clear liquid portion of blood that remains after cellular components including white and red blood cells and platelets are removed. It makes up for approximately 55% of an individual’s blood volume and is comprised of 90% water, with the remaining 10% containing vital elements that are used to manufacture a variety of medications[3].

You may find yourself asking how O negative blood and AB plasma can be universally received, regardless of the recipient’s blood type. Red blood cells in O negative individuals lack antigens on the outside of the cellular structure, meaning that the recipient’s immune system has nothing to identify as an “invading” cell and subsequently attack[4]. Similarly, AB plasma lacks proteins that could cause immune system reactions[5]. Avoiding these kinds of reactions are imperative, as they are potentially life-threatening.

The American Red Cross issued statements in January and May 2019 indicating that there is a national shortage of blood and plasma; particularly of O negative blood and AB plasma. On a daily basis, at least 12 units of this blood type per 100,000 people are needed; however, currently only half of that is available – this means that approximately half of patients requiring this kind of blood are at greater risk of death[6].

There are several things you can do to help combat this shortage, the most important of which is taking the time to donate. You do not need to know your blood type to donate plasma, platelets, or blood: simply meet age, weight, and health requirements and go to the nearest donation site. The following table demonstrates these requirements for plasma, blood, and platelet donations.

 

Requirements:

  • Blood Donations
  • Platelet
  • Plasma
  • Double Red Cell Donation
  • Whole Blood Donation 

Age

Males: at least 17; Females: at least 19

16-17. *In states that permit 16, parental consent is required*.

16-17. *In states that permit 16, parental consent is required*.

At least 18

Weight

Males: at least 5’1″ and 130 lbs; Females: at least 5’5″ and 150 lbs

AT LEAST 110 lbs.

AT LEAST 110 lbs.

AT LEAST 110 lbs.

Health

No acute infections, fever, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, active TB, sickle cell disease, CJD, use of bovine insulin, STD treatment for syphilis/gonorrhea must have been completed at least 12 months prior to donation

No acute infections, fever, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, active TB, sickle cell disease, CJD, use of bovine insulin, STD treatment for syphilis/gonorrhea must have been completed at least 12 months prior to donation

No acute infections, fever, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, active TB, sickle cell disease, CJD, use of bovine insulin, STD treatment for syphilis/gonorrhea must have been completed at least 12 months prior to donation

No acute infections, fever, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, active TB, sickle cell disease, CJD, use of bovine insulin, STD treatment for syphilis/gonorrhea must have been completed at least 12 months prior to donation

Lifestyle

Not eligible if : MSM [male sex with male] in 12 months, IV drug use, current pregnancy/at least 6 weeks postpartum, new tattoo/piercing in 12 months

Not eligible if : MSM [male sex with male] in 12 months, IV drug use, current pregnancy/at least 6 weeks postpartum, new tattoo/piercing in 12 months

Not eligible if : MSM [male sex with male] in 12 months, IV drug use, current pregnancy/at least 6 weeks postpartum, new tattoo/piercing in 12 months

Not eligible if : MSM [male sex with male] in 12 months, IV drug use, current pregnancy/at least 6 weeks postpartum, new tattoo/piercing in 12 months

Intervals

At least 16 weeks between donations

At least 8 weeks between donations

At least 7 days between donations

At least one full day between donations, max of 2 donations every 7 days

[7] [8]

Although it is important that blood/plasma banks receive donations from ALL blood types, it is particularly important that the “universal donor” types donate – only7% of the population has O negative blood type[9] while 3.4% has AB positive blood[10]. These statistics demonstrate the rarity of these blood types and highlight the importance of donations by these individuals.

If you’re eligible to donate, the following are steps you can take to ensure a safe, successful and timely donation. First, make sure you’re feeling well and healthy; if you are getting over an illness, make sure to give yourself adequate healing time prior to donation. Additionally, make sure to get a good night’s sleep prior to your donation in order to avoid fatigue-related dizziness or lightheadedness. Nutrition and hydration are just as important as rest; make sure you drink at least an extra 8 fluid ounces prior to your donation as well as eating a nutrient-dense meal. Hydration makes it easier to establish an IV as well as speeds up the process, while adequate nutrition helps to combat lightheadedness, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. It is equally important to eat a snack and hydrate following a donation in order to replenish lost nutrients and water.

If you’re ineligible to donate, don’t worry! There are other ways in which you can help. About 80% of blood donations are obtained during hosted drives rather than drives directly put on by the American Red Cross. Hosts are responsible for providing a suitable space (preferably large, open floor plans indoors), publicizing the drive, forming a recruitment team to attract donors, and scheduling appointments for donations[11]. If hosting a drive isn’t feasible, you can also choose to volunteer – American Red Cross volunteers respond to approximately 62,000 disasters annually and around 25,000 volunteers support Red Cross Blood Services[12]. Simply use the following link to search for volunteer opportunities in your area that match your talents and interest:https://volunteerconnection.redcross.org/?nd=rco_opportunity_browse_list&utm_source=internal&utm_medium=to-button&utm_campaign=to-vol-cta. If volunteering or hosting a live drive doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in, there are other options! You can choose to start or support a virtual campaign through the Red Cross’s “SleevesUp” program. This program allows individuals to solicit donations for their birthday through social media; additionally, it allows individuals and corporations to partner with the ARC’s Blood Services by providing “perks” to limited individuals who donate blood through that campaign. Lastly, the Red Cross is always accepting (and in need of) financial donations – whether that is $1 or $100, these funds are vital for purchasing equipment (including bloodmobiles), performing outreach activities, and retaining qualified and caring professionals. While there may be a shortage of blood, there is no shortage of opportunities to provide life-saving help. You can be that light of hope for someone and their family during the hardest of times; after all, would you not hope someone would do the same for you and those you love?