Every 2 seconds, someone in the United States needs blood or platelets, and approximately 29,000 units of blood are needed every day. There isn’t enough blood to meet this demand, and currently in the United States, we are facing the worst blood shortage for over a decade. These donations are needed to replace blood that is lost and cannot be replaced, such as that occurs during surgery or following injuries.
Currently, we do not have the technology to manufacture blood, and the blood we use for our patients comes from donors. The blood supply has been in decline since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the lockdown early in 2020, blood donations stopped, but the need for blood also dropped, as hospitals stopped performing elective surgeries. Then gradually elective surgeries came back, but blood donation only came back at a much slower pace than the need.
Apart from the benefit of blood to the recipients, blood donations also benefit the donors. The donors get a complete health screening to determine that they are safe to donate blood. If they pass the screening, then they get a medical physical examination, including taking the blood pressure, pulse and temperature. This is followed by blood tests to measure the hemoglobin level and to test for infectious diseases. These tests are offered for free before blood donation, and sometimes, people are diagnosed with certain conditions for the first time, following this evaluation before blood donation. The greatest benefit to the donors is that their blood will help others and save lives.
Generally, blood donors are asked to hydrate well before coming to donate blood, not to smoke or drink alcohol the day of and the night before they are due to donate. There are two types of blood donations. The first is the “whole blood donation” which is the most common. Donors must be at least 17 years of age and weight at least 110 pounds. Donors can donate every 56 days or up to six times a year. Donation takes about one hour.
The second type of donation is the “platelets donation” and this can be done 24 times a year and takes about 3 hours. Platelets are the blood components that help stop bleeding and are needed for people with blood disorders, having major surgeries and people undergoing cancer treatment. To get these platelets, blood is drawn from one arm, the platelets are then removed using a machine and the remaining blood is then returned to the donor’s other arm.
Type O negative is the most used blood type, used for transfusions when the recipient’s blood type is not known, and it can be given to anybody. Only 7% of the population have this blood type and hence there is a high demand for it. However, all blood types are needed to restock the blood supplies.