Bringing Attention to Blood Transfusions

January is National Blood Donor month and the American Red Cross (ARC) continues to actively recruit potential blood donors. As many as 15 million blood transfusions are given each year in the United States, yet only about eight percent of American adults donate blood (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]), 2010.

The American Red Cross relies on donors to maintain their blood supplies, and over the years, the numbers of donors have declined sharply. According to Teresa Solorio, spokeswoman for American Red Cross Blood Services of Southern California, "We don't have a blood-supply problem (in the United States), we have a blood-donor problem. It's easier to get people to donate money than to donate blood."

Despite the development of blood-conserving surgeries, the need for blood has risen over the years because of medical advances and an aging population that needs hip replacements, heart surgery and cancer treatment.

Blood experts agree that blood shortages occur across the nation, especially in large metropolitan areas, which tend to be faster-paced and have less of a sense of community than parts of the Midwest and South.

However, the general public concern is blood safety, rather than supply. This has been an issue since the 1980s, when HIV-tainted blood infected more than 12,000 patients nationwide through transfusions (AMR, 2010). However, blood screening today is thorough and effective. A battery of tests screens blood for HIV, hepatitis, West Nile virus and other pathogens. A series of questions excludes donors who have visited countries with malaria or mad-cow disease.

Blood is also extremely expensive. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, through the National Science Foundation, is funding a collaborative research effort to increase blood stores and provide additional funding for donor programs. According to the Red Cross, donors with all blood types are needed, but the greatest shortage is with O negative and O positive blood. Not only are these the blood types that are depleted first, they also are in dangerously short supply during the summer months. Type O blood can be given to any patient regardless of blood type and is used extensively in hospital emergency rooms as well as for newborns.

Nursing care for patients receiving blood transfusions is centered on knowledge of the various blood products, thorough pre-assessment skills, and through the application of accurate infusion parameters. Awareness of the signs and symptoms of early and late transfusion reactions is also an important component of care.
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