January is National Blood Donor Month and severe weather has plagued some parts of the country, resulting in the American Red Cross issuing an emergency call for blood and platelet donations.
To be eligible to donate, people have to be age 17 or older (16-year-olds can donate with parental consent in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in generally good health. Donors age 18 and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
Why do we need to have so much blood on hand?
The Red Cross must collect nearly 14,000 blood and platelet donations every day for patients at about 2,600 hospitals and transfusion centers nationwide and once collected it takes nearly 48 hours before a donation is available for transfusion.
About one in seven people entering a hospital will need blood. Accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and patients receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease may all require blood to save their lives. And in an emergency that blood supply must be available immediately.
During times of severe weather, those supplies run low because blood drives are often cancelled and/or donors are unable to make it in to donate. Right now, Red Cross blood products are being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in. Hectic holiday schedules contributed to about 37,000 fewer donations in November and December than what was needed. Snowstorms and severe weather have also impacted donations. Nearly 100 blood drives were forced to cancel in December, resulting in more than 3,100 blood donations going uncollected.
Why are platelet donors in such high demand?
Transplant and trauma patients, as well as patients undergoing open-heart surgery may require platelet transfusions. However, the majority of platelets are used by cancer patients. Platelets only have a shelf life of five days, with two days needed for testing.
What happens to donated blood?
One pint of blood is collected from each donor. The donation is stored in iced coolers until it is transported to a Red Cross center, where it is scanned into a computer database. The blood is then spun in centrifuges to separate the transfusable components—red cells, platelets, and plasma.
A dozen tests are performed on each unit of donated blood—to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases. Units suitable for transfusion are labeled and stored.
- Red Cells are stored in refrigerators at 6ºC for up to 42 days
- Platelets are stored at room temperature in agitators for up to five days
- Plasma and cryo are frozen and stored in freezers for up to one year
There are four major blood groups determined by the presence or absence of two antigens —A and B—on the surface of red blood cells:
- Group A – has only the A antigen on red cells (and B antibody in the plasma)
- Group B – has only the B antigen on red cells (and A antibody in the plasma)
- Group AB – has both A and B antigens on red cells (but neither A nor B antibody in the plasma)
- Group O – has neither A nor B antigens on red cells (but both A and B antibody are in the plasma)
There are very specific ways in which blood types must be matched for a safe transfusion.
Universal red cell donors: Type O negative
Universal plasma donors: Type AB
Who discovered that there are different blood types?
Dr. Karl Landsteiner first identified the major human blood groups; A, B, and O in 1901.
How does my body replace the blood I donated?
Healthy bone marrow makes a constant supply of red cells, plasma and platelets.
Why do I have to wait 56 days to donate again?
The plasma from your donation is replaced within about 24 hours. Red cells need about four to six weeks for complete replacement. That’s why at least eight weeks are required between whole blood donations.
Facts about blood needs
- Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.
- Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S.
- Nearly 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed daily in the U.S.
- Nearly 21 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.
- The blood type most often requested by hospitals is type O.
- The blood used in an emergency is already on the shelves before the event occurs.
- A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.