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Dangerous side effect: Coronavirus scaring off blood donors


Knights of Columbus Supreme Council | YouTube | Fair Use

John Burger - published on 03/06/20

Drop in donations, canceled blood drives might lead to critical shortage.

It’s not uncommon for a Catholic parish or a Knights of Columbus council to sponsor a blood drive. People rely on a ready source of blood in case of emergency transfusions, and many lives are saved thanks to the charitable gifts of people who donate blood.

But apparently, the fear of a pandemic of the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 is making people more cautious about donating blood.

“Mounting warnings that Americans should stay home and avoid crowds to stop the spread of a deadly new coronavirus are triggering an unexpected — and potentially ominous — downside: a drop in the nation’s blood supply,” Kaiser Health News reported. “Dozens of blood drives have been canceled and regular donors are no-shows, industry officials said, especially in states like Washington and California, where the virus is spreading more broadly within communities and health officials are urging residents to avoid public gatherings to reduce risk.”

The number of persons who have been infected by COVID-19 exceeded 100,000 worldwide on Friday. Some 3,300 people have died from it. In the United States, there have been more than 250 cases so far.

Kaiser said that nearly 13 million whole blood and red blood cells are collected each year in the U.S. and commonly used in transfusions for trauma, surgeries and illness. As of Thursday afternoon, 17% of blood centers tracked by America’s Blood Centers had a supply of one day or less. Most blood centers try to keep an inventory of three to five days of blood, KHN said.

“It’s definitely a threat to the blood supply,” said Dr. Louis Katz, who is leading the response to the outbreak for AABB, a nonprofit transfusion medicine association. “We’ll lose donors that are afraid to come out in public.”

But it’s safe to donate blood in the midst of an outbreak of COVID-19, Katz said, and there’s little known risk of spreading the disease through blood transfusions.

Especially hard hit is the Seattle area, where there have been 13 deaths from COVID-19, and local health officials this week issued recommendations for social-distancing strategies, telling vulnerable people to avoid public gatherings and urging businesses to let employees work from home, if possible. Bloodworks Northwest, which collects and distributes blood to nearly 100 Northwestern hospitals, saw a drop of more than 200 donations when six local blood drives and more than a dozen individual appointments were canceled. The organization needs about 1,000 donors a day to keep up with demand.

Dr. Suchi Pandey, chief medical officer at the Stanford Blood Center in California, said that donors shouldn’t worry because blood drives are not “mass gatherings.”

Kaiser said that experts believe that the risk of spreading the virus through blood and blood components appears low.

If supplies do get critically low, there might be calls to limit elective and nonemergency surgeries, Kaiser said.

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