January is National Blood Donor Month. It is a time to celebrate the lifesaving impact blood donors have made towards supporting this life-sustaining process for many individuals. It is also a time to encourage more people to donate blood and to spread more awareness and factual information towards this topic. Awareness of blood donation is critical within this month, given how there is usually a shortage after the holidays.
Why Should I Donate Blood?
According to the American Red Cross:
- Every 2 seconds, someone in the US needs blood and/or platelets.
- Red blood must be used within 42 days.
- Platelets must be used within 5 days.
- About 29,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the US.
- About 5,000 units of platelets and 6.500 units of plasma are needed daily in the US.
- Nearly 16 million blood components are transfused each year in the US.
- A car accident victim may require 100 units of blood.
- One blood donation can save three lives.
- Negative O blood is often requested by hospitals. However, only 7% of people are type negative O in the US. Thus, there is often a short supply.
- Meanwhile, AB plasma can be transfused to patients of all blood types. Only 4% of people in the US have AB blood. For this type of plasma, there is a short supply.
- Sickle cell pains require blood transfusions throughout their lives. In the US, about 1,000 babies are born with this disease each year, and it affects about 900,000 to 100,000 people.
- According to the American Cancer Society, 1.8 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2020. Many of them may need blood (sometimes daily) during chemotherapy treatment.
A plentiful blood supply is also crucial because it is essential for surgeries, cancer treatments, chronic illnesses, blood transfusions for blood loss, and those with traumatic injuries. Blood is also often needed by women who experience complications during pregnancy or childbirth and by children who have severe anemia.
For cancer patients, blood transfusions are a resource to restore platelets back into the body, which is necessary after heavy treatments like chemo or radiation therapy. Those with cancers in the blood and bone marrow (like lymphoma or leukemia) don’t allow the body to produce normal blood-making cells. Therefore, blood transfusions are crucial since they are at risk of developing chronic diseases over time that can also affect their kidneys, spleen, and liver.
Types of Blood Donation
There are several types of blood donations. One single unit of blood can be separated into three components: blood cells, plasma, and platelets.
Whole Blood Donation: This is the most common and most flexible type of blood donation. Generally, one pint is collected and can be used to help multiple patients because it can be separated into different components (blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma). These types of donations are usually used to help patients fighting cancer, blood disorders, and traumatic injuries.
Power Red Donation: Donors can safely donate two units of red blood cells within one appointment. The difference is that a phlebotomist uses a specific machine to ensure that two units of only red blood cells are collected. The machine returns the other components back to your body. It is highly recommended that donors with blood types O+, O-, A- and B- consider this method.
Convalescent plasma donation: Plasma is collected through apheresis (a process that operates plasma from other blood components). Blood is drawn from one arm and sent to the centrifuge to separate the plasma. The red blood cells and platelets are then returned back into the same arm. Plasma is often used to help patients with severe burns, cancer, or other life-threatening conditions. It is due to the blood clotting factors it has that are needed by certain patients. The Red Cross highly encourages those with AB blood type to donate plasma since it can be used with other blood types. One blood donation can provide up to four units of plasma.
Platelet Donation: Platelets are also collected using the apheresis process. Cancer patients are the primary recipients of platelets because they play a vital role in cancer treatments. Platelets help blood clot and are also given to patients having major surgery.
Is It Safe? How Will It Feel?
Blood Donation is perfectly safe. You will only be accepted to donate blood if you are fit and well. All you should feel is a gentle pressure and an initial pinprick sensation. It is uncommon for people to experience discomfort and issues during or after blood donation. The needle and blood bag used to collect blood are sterile and only used once.
Also, most countries will only take about 450 milliliters of blood- which is less than 10% of your total blood volume. Your body will also replace the lost fluid within 36 hours. For other blood components, such as plasma or platelet, the amount collected will depend on your height, weight, and platelet count.
The entire process takes about an hour (including the registration, donation process, and post-donation refreshment). However, the actual donation should only take about 5-10 minutes.
Remember, extensive research has led to a process that is made as safe as possible.
Who Should Not Donate Blood?
You should not donate blood if you think your health may suffer as a result. While the blood service location is concerned about the recipients, they also highly care about the donor’s welfare. The first concern of the blood service is to ensure that blood donation does not harm the donor. You should not donate blood if:
- You are feeling unwell
- You are anemic
- You are pregnant, have been pregnant within the last year, or are breast-feeding
- You have medical conditions that might make it difficult for you to donate blood
- You are taking certain medications (such as antibiotics)
You must also not donate blood if it may harm the recipient. Remember, blood can also transmit life-threatening infections to those receiving blood transfusions. You may be given a donor deferral if:
- You have contracted an STI (such as HIV) that can be passed down to a patient receiving your blood
- Your lifestyle places you at risk of contracting an infection that can be transmitted through blood
- You have taken drugs, steroids, or any substance not prescribed by a doctor in the past 3 months
- You have the flu or the cold
- You are underweight
- You have lived or traveled to a malaria-risk country in the past three years
- You have had a recent tattoo, skin scarification, or ear or body piercing
- You have had babesiosis or Chagas disease
- Anyone who has taken Tegison for psoriasis
- Anyone who has risk factors for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) as defined in the FDA’s April 2020 CJD guidance
Depending on your situation, the blood donation center will inform you if you are permanently or temporarily deferred. The time of your deferral will depend on the reason. Before each donation, individuals go through a mini-physical and medical interview to determine if they are well enough to donate blood at that time. During this moment in the process, it will be determined if you are eligible to donate blood on that day.
To further ensure the safety of the recipient, the blood is tested for ABO group (blood type) and Rh type (positive or negative). It is also tested for any unexpected red blood cell antibodies that may cause problems for the transfusion recipient. It is tested for:
- Hepatitis B virus
- Hepatitis C virus
- HIV-1 and HIV-2
- HTLV-I and HTLV-II
- West Nile virus
- Trypanosoma cruzi, the infectious agent causing Chagas’ disease
- Zika virus
- Babesia – in states where testing is required by FDA guidance
What Happens if You Can’t Donate Blood?
If you are not eligible to donate blood, there are other ways you can get involved. You can work with others in your community and help organize a blood drive. You can then work together with the American Red Cross or your local donor center to organize a blood drive at your office, church, or other location. Each individual can also work to recruit suitable donors. You can support someone you know simply by just being there, offering them a ride, or even volunteering to look after things while they are gone. One can even spread information and awareness towards the importance of blood donation and how it can help save the lives of others. You can spread the word via various social media platforms. Blood Donation centers are always in need of volunteers to assist at locations- or to organize mobile blood drives. As a volunteer, you may remind donors through phone or email about their appointment, escort them when they arrive, and make sure refreshments are available to donors after the donation process. Also, donations are always welcomed to ensure that blood banks continue to operate and provide safe and adequate blood to those in need.