Red Cross Decides to Freeze ‘Much’ of Blood Surplus
In an unprecedented move, the American Red Cross has announced that in light of the recent increase in blood donations in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks last week, the organization will freeze "large amounts" of blood to extend the donations' shelf lives, the Baltimore Sun reports. After Americans "lined up by the thousands" to donate blood in the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the Red Cross collected 250,000 units within a week -- twice the average number. Because the "immediate death toll" was large, very few blood donations were needed to treat victims. Instead, some donations are being used to "serve local needs" and others were put into the nation's blood inventory, which allows communities that need blood to "tap" into supplies from areas that have "more than enough." Blythe Kubina, a Red Cross spokesperson, said that the organization soon will determine how much blood will be frozen and which laboratories will perform the "complicated and expensive" freezing process. The Red Cross has been freezing rare types of blood for the past 10 years (Bor, Baltimore Sun, 9/20). According to the Augusta Chronicle, freezing blood increases the product's "shelf life" from 42 days to 10 years. Glycerol is added to protect the red blood cells and then the blood is stored at or below minus 65 degrees Celsius (Landers, Augusta Chronicle, 9/20). To use the blood, it must be processed to remove the glycerol and transplanted within 24 hours of thawing.
Although the Red Cross' plan is "prudent" because it will "avert waste," it is not "simple," Dr. Paul Ness, director of transfusion medicine at Johns Hopkins University, said. He added, "It's just not as easy as having blood available in liquid form. But it can be done." Dr. Ronald Gilcher, a member of a federal blood advisory panel and director of an independent blood agency in Oklahoma, said, "It's not practical nor is it cost effective to try to freeze blood for routine inventory." Further, a frozen surplus could create a "false sense of security" and discourage people from continuing to donate, he said. Dr. Gilcher urged blood centers to "schedule donors at regular intervals" to maintain a "steady inventory" (Baltimore Sun, 9/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.