How Safe is the Blood Supply?
July 19, 2002 1:07 PM   Subscribe

How Safe is the Blood Supply? A tainted donor infects two with HIV in Florida. The people in charge of the blood claim it's safe. But recent books and documentaries raise serious questions.
posted by ahughey (12 comments total)
Sorry to take away from the Friday fun and bunnies. seems to have a lot of answers, including recommending autologous blood

It's interesting that HIV/AIDS is both responsible for the current levels of safety in the blood business and also one of the roots of renewed fear of the blood supply.
posted by ahughey at 1:09 PM on July 19, 2002

One in every 2-3 million people who receive a transfusion in this country get HIV tainted blood. (as heard on NPR, citing CDC statistics, I believe)
posted by rbellon at 1:35 PM on July 19, 2002

And the survey says: Pretty damned safe.

Five million pints served since 1985, 2 cases of AIDS. Yeah, it would really suck to get AIDS from what is meant to be a life saving procedure but the probability seems minimal. There needs to be diligence to make sure that the blood donation process remains as safe as it presently is, but that's true of anything.

I'll continue to donate every 8 weeks, and hopefully continue to never need a transfusion, but if I do need one I'm not going to take an alarmist attitude.
posted by substrate at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2002

Here is also an interesting article on the subject that appeared two years ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
posted by rbellon at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2002

substrate: The SPT article says it's 12 million a year; heck, just looking at "5M since '85" I knew it was grossly low. Still, yours is a rational perspective. And autologous donation for planned procedures still makes a lot of sense, if only to keep the pressure off the blood supply.

I'm just glad most people seem to understand, now, that you can't get AIDS from giving.
posted by dhartung at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2002

Every week the FDA post a list of recalled items, which usually includes a surprising amount of blood products.
posted by Miss Beth at 2:11 PM on July 19, 2002

Substrate: I read in the New Yorker not long ago that, for every pint of blood donated, hospitals take in about $1000, by using (and charging patients for) the various refinements (platelets, plasma, etc.) extracted.

I'm not a donor myself (I take statins and don't eat breakfast, which flunks me out every time), but I found that an eye-raising item.
posted by UncleFes at 2:16 PM on July 19, 2002

dhartung, yeah, the 5 million per year was for Florida, sorry, I should have clarified that. Its also tested pints. I know now that 100% of the pints are tested, but I don't know if that was true historically. I would imagine that if you took a look at the statistics in other continents it may be worse however.

Miss Beth, that's true, but that's also an indication that the system is working. If you look at the actual recalls you'll see things like the donor has travelled in an area the Red Cross doesn't feel is safe. I.e., go spend 6 months in the U.K. and you won't be allowed to donate.

UncleFes: I would prefer that my blood be given in the same spirit in which I donated it, but even if it isn't I'll still donate. Hey, I get free cookies and juice out of it!
posted by substrate at 2:51 PM on July 19, 2002

In the old days blood transfusions were done by sewing a vein to an artery--I always wondered how that worked in terms of synchronized heartbeats. (Of course, I know if didn't work very well at all, and a good portion of the people died, because no one knew about blood type)

Anyway, a recent Discover article talks about blood substitutes, several of which are close to FDA approval. They can't, of course, do everything blood can, but they can carry oxygen, and really well.
posted by Nothing at 4:00 PM on July 19, 2002

Substrate knows, but have anyone else here given blood lately? I've given more than 6 gallons to the Red Cross. You wouldn't believe the checklist of geography, medications, sexual history and disease that you go through each and every time you give. Don't get me wrong -- it's worthwhile to keep the supply safe, but the intense drive to keep donations clean is constricting the supply of eligible donors. I know at least 3 people who have spent significant time in the U.K. who the Red Cross will not accept (zealously guarding against mad cow disease).

I second Substrates conclusion: our blood supply is pretty damned straight. In fact, if it were any safer, we flat out wouldn't have enough.
posted by christophernaze at 8:54 PM on July 19, 2002

Following up on the Discover article, my friend works at Biopure, the company that makes Hemopure. The Discover article implies that Hemopure is being used on dogs and only on the occasional human (in absolute emergency situations), because the FDA hasn't approved it yet. But it's actually being used on many humans in South Africa with great success.
posted by ben-o at 9:23 PM on July 19, 2002

neat article ben-o! even poetic :)

The future doesn't appear on earth all at once the way a stock offering might, or even roll around with the rising sun. Instead, it blossoms in discrete locations, spreads in ponderous waves, and fills the wind with sporelike memes than can settle and bloom without warning.
posted by kliuless at 7:11 AM on July 20, 2002

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