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Ask the Doc

October 2012 • Published in The Daily Press, Ashland WI

Q:  I have a friend who needs a blood transfusion. But she’s concerned about the safety of the blood she might get. She wants to know if I and other members of her family should donate in order to make sure that the blood she receives is safe. What should I tell her?

A: Please reassure your friend that the blood supply in the U.S. is safe. In fact, it’s safer than it has ever been. Blood safety is a function of the prevalence of blood borne pathogens (what percent of the population may carry a transmissible disease), our ability to reduce risk by donor eligibility selection, and screening each and every donation with laboratory testing. Major improvements in testing and more stringent criteria have added to the safety of the blood used for transfusions in hospitals today.

We carefully screen all donors to determine eligibility, including a questionnaire prior to actually donating blood. Questions are intended to address travel outside of the U.S to reduce risk of malaria, variant Creutzfeld-Jakob (mad cow disease) which can’t be tested for, medications and drugs donors are taking, and risk behaviors associated with potentially transmittable diseases.  Those who may be deferred from donating blood include:

 •  Anyone who has ever used intravenous drugs (illegal IV drugs)
 •  Men who have had sexual contact with other men since 1977
 •  Anyone with a positive test for HIV (AIDS virus)
 •  Men and women who have engaged in sex for money or drugs since 1977
 •  Anyone who has had hepatitis since his or her 11th  birthday
 •  Anyone who has risk factors for Crueutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) or who has an immediate family member with CJD
 •  Anyone who has had Babesiosis or Chagas disease
 •  Anyone who spent three months or more in the United Kingdom from 1980 - 1996
 •  Anyone who received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom or France from 1980 to the present
 •  Anyone who has spent five years in Europe from 1980 to the present.
 •  Anyone who spent six months or more on military bases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, or Greece from 1980-1996

For a complete review of additional restrictions, we encourage you to contact a member of our Memorial Blood Centers staff at 1-888-GIVE-BLD.

Every blood donation is carefully tested for safety: 14 tests are performed on each unit of donated blood, included 11 to test for infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B and C, HIV, syphilis, and West Nile Virus. We also test all donors once for Chagas disease, an infection primarily found in Mexico, Central and South America. Nationally, the estimated risk for getting an infection that we screen for, such as Hepatitis C or HIV, is less than one in a million. Because of the low prevalence of the things we screen for in Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin, these risks are likely less than one in two million. No blood is released for transfusion without passing all required tests.

Because most of our donations are from repeat donors who have been tested and tested again, it is actually safer to get blood from a repeatedly tested volunteer donor than a family member new to donation. Therefore, we discourage family member (directed) donation that adds to the complexity, expense and risk of wastage.

Thanks to the almost 200,000 donations we get annually, we are able to continually meet the demand from our partner hospitals for a stable and ample blood supply. But the need is constant and blood doesn’t last forever.  Supplies must be continually replenished. So please remember to donate as often as you can—up to every 56 days for whole blood donation. And consider making a date to donate at one of the following community blood drives:  

Washburn's "Zombie Days" Blood Drive  
Thursday, October 25th
2:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Bloodmobile parked at the Washburn Chamber of Commerce building 
Schedule your appointment online at MBC.ORG/searchdrives
Sponsor Code: 4050 
or contact Nicole Then @ (715) 373-5017  

Mellen High School and Community Blood Drive
Wednesday, October 17th
10:30 AM - 5:30 PM
Contact: Mrs.. Berndt @ 274-3601 ext. 100  

Scheduling an appointment online is fast and easy. Go to MBC.ORG/searchdrives and enter the Sponsor Code for one of the above blood drives. Or call 1-888-GIVE-BLD (1-888-448-3253) to make an appointment by phone.  

Jed Gorlin, M.D. is Medical Director and Vice President, Medical and Quality Affairs for Memorial Blood Centers. Elizabeth Perry, M.D. is Associate Medical Director for Memorial Blood Centers.

Send us your questions at askthedoc@MBC.ORG.

Call us today 1-888-GIVE-BLD (888-448-3253) to schedule an appointment, or to find out more about Memorial Blood Centers and how we partner with the Ashland community to save lives visit About Us. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.