American Red Cross Blood Crisis: How to Help

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Eva Klappa, American Red Cross team leader, carries transport boxes for blood donations during an American Red Cross blood drive March 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, NV. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
  • The American Red Cross announced this week that it was facing its first-ever blood crisis amid an increase in cases of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.
  • Due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, 68% of blood centers in the United States have less blood than is needed to meet regular demand.
  • Doctors are urging people to donate blood so hospitals can meet demand and save lives.

As of January 14, 2022, 68% of blood centers in the United States had less than 3 days of blood supply, the minimum needed to meet regular demand.

Under normal circumstances, the Red Cross provides 40% of the United States national blood supply used by hospitals. However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has seen a 10% drop in the number of people donating blood.

To remedy this shortage, the Red Cross raises awareness and encourages individuals to donate blood:

“All types are needed now, especially O positive and O negative types, along with platelet donations, to help reverse this national blood crisis,” the American Red Cross wrote in a press release.

“If there is no immediate opportunity to donate, donors are encouraged to make an appointment in the coming days and weeks to ensure the Red Cross can replenish and maintain a supply. in sufficient blood,” they continued.

Blood cannot be made and there is no alternative treatment to blood transfusion. It is therefore crucial that people donate blood to save lives.

To better understand this problem, Medical News Today spoke with three experts whose practice is directly affected by the blood shortage alongside two who have been relatively spared.

“In our hospital, we are missing hundreds of units of blood,” said Dr. Jennifer Andrews, M.Sc., associate professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology, and associate professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. , TN .

Dr. Andrews is also medical director of the facility’s blood bank. She said Medical News Today, “Multiply that by thousands of hospitals across the United States, and it quickly becomes apparent that we need thousands of units of blood to make up for this shortage.”

“Right now, we need as much blood as possible,” said Dr. Brian Wagers, associate chief medical officer and emergency physician at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, IN. DTM:

“It’s not uncommon for a patient to use up to tens of units of blood, especially in a trauma patient. You can see that for a single patient, it can take many, many donors to meet that need. We need everyone who can donate as often as they can safely. »

One unit of blood equals 500 milliliters. The American Red Cross estimates that 29,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the United States. While the average red blood cell transfusion is about three units, a car accident victim may require up to 100 units of blood.

However, not everyone has been affected equally by the nationwide blood shortage. Bryan Schmitt, DO, medical director of the Minnesota Department of Laboratory and Children’s Pathology, said Medical News Today:

“Fortunately, at Children’s Minnesota, we have not been impacted by the nationwide blood shortage. Our supplier asked us to store about 20% less blood due to the national shortage. We are also more attentive to the use of our products.

He cautioned, however, that while normal operations at Children’s Minnesota were unaffected, “healthcare systems cannot keep the blood supply low forever.”

“During the initial phase of the pandemic in the United States, the blood supply declined, but our use simultaneously declined as elective and elective surgeries were canceled across the country,” Suzanne Arinsburg, DO, Director of Blood Bank and Transfusion Services for Mount Sinai Hospital said DTM. “As these surgeries resumed, blood collection centers were unable to keep up with demand.”

Dr Wagers said one of the main reasons blood centers have been unable to keep up with demand is that “many ways people were donating blood, such as through community blood drives or pop-up sites in general gatherings, have been reduced or canceled” due to continued COVID-19 restrictions.

“Despite some easing of these restrictions in various parts of the country, repeated outbreaks of the variant-related COVID-19 disease have continued to depress donations. Many hospitals and other organizations are sponsoring blood drives, but the yield from these is also decreasing, which means that successive blood drives do not collect the same amount of donations as in the past,” he said. for follow-up.

Dr Andrews added that healthcare workers getting sick and quarantines due to COVID-19 have also affected blood donations:

“As healthy blood donors and healthcare workers are either sick or quarantined due to [SARS-CoV-2] infection, they are unable to donate blood or process blood to send to hospitals. This means that the blood “supply chain” stops so that hospitals do not receive the blood we need to transfuse patients. »

“Blood needs to be delivered to hospitals regularly and regularly, just like groceries need to be delivered to your local grocery store. We end up with empty shelves in our blood bank, just like your neighborhood grocery store does if the supply chain goes down. But blood is constantly needed to save lives, so this supply chain absolutely cannot wait to be fixed,” she added.

“We cannot transfuse patients who need blood transfusions. Patients have to wait. As a pediatric hematologist, I treat children with blood disorders including sickle cell anemia and send them home if they are well enough to hopefully have more blood tomorrow,” said Dr. Andrews.

“For patients already very ill in hospital or undergoing life-saving surgeries like liver transplants, they are either transfused with less than the normal dose of blood or they too have to wait. It can be deadly for some of our sickest patients,” she added.

“Additionally, Vanderbilt University Medical Center is the only Level 1 trauma center in Nashville, so we always need to have extra blood on hand to save the life of the next trauma victim who bleeds to death. It could be any one of us, having an accident on the way to work or school, or having a baby when suddenly a life-threatening hemorrhage occurs. If it hasn’t affected you or your loved ones yet, it could very soon no matter where you live,” she explained.

Dr Wagers added that requirements for different blood types further complicate the shortage:

“There are also certain blood groups that are affected by the shortage in different ways. When you receive blood, you also need to be paired appropriately so that your body “accepts” that blood and doesn’t have an adverse reaction to it. »

“Hospitals should also consider the likelihood that a person will need a blood transfusion and other procedures when planning surgeries. If there is no blood of the right type or other blood products available, the patient may not be able to receive their surgery within the originally scheduled time frame,” he added.

All of the experts interviewed said one of the best ways the public can help with the ongoing blood shortage in the United States — and save lives — is to donate blood.

“Please make an appointment to donate blood as soon as possible – go to redcrossblood.org and find the blood drive closest to your US zip code and tell friends and family to make an appointment you today. Please keep donating blood – we need a constant, steady blood supply to keep saving lives.

– Dr. Andrews

“And please do all you can to prevent [SARS-CoV-2] infection, such as getting vaccinated or getting a booster. The ongoing pandemic is the ultimate root cause for this severe blood shortage,” she added.

Although the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UMPC) was not immediately affected by the shortage, a university spokesperson echoed the sentiment:

“UMPC has the necessary blood supplies to care for our patients […] [However, we encourage] community members to donate vital blood through their local blood drives.

“Even though we are in a pandemic, children still suffer life-threatening injuries and need surgeries to treat very serious illnesses. Having an adequate blood supply is an extremely important part of the success of these efforts,” said Dr. Schmitt.

Others pointed out that there are other ways to get help to address the shortage beyond donating blood:

“It’s also important that people amplify their efforts by holding community blood drives on a regular basis so that other people can have the opportunity to donate blood,” Dr Wagers said.

“Having others share their personal stories of family members or other loved ones who have benefited from receiving blood products is also helpful in motivating and inspiring others to give back and donate blood.”

Dr Arinsburg added: ‘Consider volunteering at a local blood drive or organizing one. Information on how to volunteer or organize a blood drive is available online for your local blood center.

However, donating blood remains the best way to get personally involved. She concluded: “Blood donation is essential and safe. If you are eligible, please donate today.

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