A number of blood centers are reporting an unusual drop in collections because too many potential donors are sick with the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. Some blood drives in high schools, factories and corporate offices have had to be scaled back or canceled because of high levels of absenteeism.
According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, another problem that blood centers are facing is that a growing number of donors are calling a day or two after giving blood to say they've come down with flu-like symptoms, forcing the centers to dispose of the blood as part of government regulations. Food and Drug Administration regulations require blood centers to turn away would-be donors who have any symptoms of illness. And any donor who falls ill shortly after giving blood is asked to notify the center where they donated so their blood can be removed from inventory.
Unlike infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and West Nile virus, colds and flu aren't believed to be transmitted by blood. But some studies indicate that more virulent strains can be present in the blood before flu symptoms show up. So far, the swine flu has turned out to be less infectious than health experts initially feared. But because many patients who get blood transfusions have weak immune systems, a flu infection transmitted through the blood could significantly increase the risks of complications or even death.
America's Blood Centers, an association of independent facilities that collect about half the U.S. blood supply, says that 27 percent of its member centers are reporting a decrease in overall collections due to swine flu. The American Red Cross and its local chapters are turning to social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get the word out about the need for blood.