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Is the U.S. Blood Supply Safe?

With five years blood banking experience under my belt, I would have to say...............YES!!! If you have never donated blood, you are not aware of the lengthy and detailed questionnaire that must be completed when you sign up to donate. Yes, it is quite personal and direct. That is the first defense to ensuring that our blood supply is safe. The questions that are asked are designed to rule you in or rule you out as a potential blood donor.

The one question I have been asked the most is: "But what if someone lies?". If a person infected with HIV lied to get past the questionnaire and was able to donate a unit of blood, the extensive testing would result in a positive HIV result and the unit would be immediately quarantined and discarded. In addition to discarding the unit, the donor is then permanently deferred and is not allowed to donate again. Testing has come along way since the 1980's. Every unit donated is tested for: ABO, RH typing, Antibody to HIV 1 and 2, Antibody to HTLV 1 and 2, ALT, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B CORE, Hepatitis B Surface Antigen, blood group antibodies, west nile virus, Chagas, Syphillis and CJD. These tests are not optional, every donation must be tested.

Does this mean there is no risk associated with transfusions? No, not at all. It just means our blood supply is safer than it ever has been. But transmission of viruses and bacteria still occur. It is not 100% safe; however, right now it is as safe as it can be. Approximately 29 million units of blood and blood products are transfused in the U.S. About 1 out of every 2 million transfusions will result in a patient getting infected with Hepatitis C. Hepatitis B infections by transfusion are about 1 in 250,000. However, if you have just been in a severe car accident and have lost a great deal of your blood, I think it is well worth the risk to have the transfusion. Sometimes it comes down to: Do you want to live or die?

If you know in advance that you may need a transfusion during a surgery, you can always donate your own unit of blood to be used during the procedure. Most blood banks will draw the unit for you, test it and forward it to the hospital. The correct term for this unit is autologous donation. The unit is still subject to the same testing as any unit of blood or blood product. The difference is that if your units tests positive for any of the testing criteria it does not get discarded. Your physician is notified of the positive test result and he or she decides whether it will be used. If your physician decides to use the unit, he or she must sign a release for the unit.

In life there are always risks. But I firmly believe that as a nation, we have taken great precautions to ensure the safety of our blood supply. Blood and blood products save millions of lives each year. It is truly the gift of life!



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