Question of the Week

January 26, 2004


January is National Volunteer Blood Donor Month.

"This year, the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and America's Blood Centers have set a joint goal to collect 1.2 million units of blood during the month of January. A spike in holiday traffic accidents has led to an increased demand for blood, but a bitter flu season has added to the usual wintertime donation deterrents, such as bad weather and vacations. As a result, blood supplies have already reached crisis-level lows in many communities....but partners in the blood community believe that Americans will see National Volunteer Blood Donor Month as an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and respond to the urgent need.",1072,0_312_2144,00.html

How much blood is really needed?

"Each unit of blood consists of a volume of 450�500 milliliters, or about one pint. About 15 million units of red blood cells were donated in 2001 in the United States by about 8 million volunteer donors. This supply of blood is used by about 5 million patients. Blood is in constant demand because it is necessary to treat accident victims, people undergoing surgery, and patients with leukemia, cancer and other diseases."

While this month it is in the news--and there are occasional pleas throughout the year when supplies get dangerously low, and hospitals are forced to postpone surgeries--requests cannot be made each time there is a need. There is a constant need, and a constant plea for urgent help would soon lose it's ability to illicit a public response.

"Short-term increases in the number of blood donations following national disasters have been documented. But we don't know as much about the long-term impact on the blood supply. In other words, do people who donate blood after a national disaster--particularly first-time donors--continue to donate blood in non-disaster situations? Another concern is the safety of donated blood because first-time donors are more likely to have transfusion-transmissible viral infections (TTVIs) than people who donate blood regularly."

What about a risk of infection for those who are donating?

"A person can't get an infection or disease from donating blood. Needles and other equipment used are sterile and they're used only on one person and then thrown away. There are virtually no health risks associated with donating blood, according to the American Association of Blood Banks. A few donors may feel a little bit uncomfortable after donating blood, but this feeling typically goes away quickly. The donor's body replenishes the fluid lost from donating blood within 24 hours. It may take up to 2 months to replace the lost red blood cells, which is why a person can only donate blood once every 8 weeks."

Can anyone donate blood? There are medical conditions and lifestyle choices that would prevent blood from being usable to hospitals--including everything from having a current cold or infectious disease to medicinal or illegal drug use. One of the most common reasons people who try to donate blood are not accepted is anemia.

"For blood donors, the iron level is required to be slightly higher than what is considered the 'normal range.' Approximately 10 percent of those individuals who register to donate are temporarily deferred and the majority of deferrals are due to low iron."

Other requirements include:
"To donate blood, the American Red Cross requires that people be at least 17 years old and weigh more than 110 pounds. Donors must be in good health and will be screened for certain medical conditions, such as anemia. Despite the age requirements, the Red Cross estimates that 15% of all blood donors in the United States are high school or college students. If you meet the eligibility requirements and you're interested in donating blood, you'll also need to give your medical history and pass a physical exam before donating. The medical history includes a series of questions that help estimate the risk that the donor might have an infection that could be transmitted in their blood."

"[T]he Red Cross estimates that 15% of all blood donors in the United States are high school or college students."

Not everyone wants to donate blood. Not everyone can.

Questions of the Week:
How can people determine if blood donation is the right choice for them? What lifestyle choices can people make that will help ensure that their blood is healthy enough to help others? In what ways can blood donation help keep people accountable to a more healthy lifestyle? Since blood donation is not an option for all, what else can people do to help those in need in their communities?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site