Published on September 3rd, 2019
You hear all the reports about a blood shortage and the need for donors, but do you actually know what that means to you or others? Find out what it means, how it can affect hospital patients, and what you can do to help replenish the nation’s blood supply.
What Is A Blood Shortage?
The American Red Cross strives to have a five-day supply of blood and blood products available at all times. This enables us to meet the needs of patients every day and be prepared for emergencies that may require significant volumes of donated blood products.
This five-day supply must come from generous donors, because there is no substitute for human blood: It can’t be manufactured. The Red Cross, which supplies a large percentage of the blood and blood products used in the nation’s hospitals and transfusion centers, needs to receive more than 13,000 donations every day.
That’s right: every day. Why? Well, blood can’t be stored forever. Donated red blood cells must be used within 42 days. With platelets, the storage time is even shorter: just five days!
A blood shortage occurs when blood and platelets are being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in, which impacts the ability to maintain that five-day blood supply.
How Do Blood Shortages Affect Patients Who Need Blood?
In the U.S., someone needs blood every two seconds. It might be a cancer patient or trauma victim, someone receiving an organ transplant or having surgery, or a person with a painful health condition such as sickle cell disease. Did you know that one car accident victim may need as many as 100 units of blood?
During a blood shortage, doctors may need to postpone their patients’ elective surgeries. If the shortage continues for a long time, hospital could reach the point of delaying serious procedures.
The bottom line is: blood shortages are bad for cancer patients, including children; premature infants; adults and children having heart surgery; people with sickle cell disease; and people who need organ transplants.
When Are Blood Shortages Most Likely To Happen?
Blood shortages are fairly common during the summer months and winter holidays. Unfortunately, although about 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood at any time, less than 10% actually does.
So when school vacations, travel and other personal commitments keep regular donors away from their local blood drives, we need to find other ways to replenish the supply. (Keep reading to see how you can help.)
What Types Of Blood Are Needed During A Blood Shortage?
If you are eligible to donate, your blood type is needed! It doesn’t matter if your blood type is common or rare. (It doesn’t even matter if you don’t know your blood type.) Someone out there needs you to be their hero.
How Can A Blood Shortage Be Avoided Or Ended?
Fortunately, we all have it in our power to ensure that the blood supply remains constant. Many of us can donate blood or platelets . If we’re already donors, we can do so more frequently.
Healthy adults can donate blood every eight weeks (56 days). And yet even “regular” donors only average about two donations per year.
Ramping up to three donations per year would help keep shortages at bay. (Platelet donors may give every 7 days, up to 24 times per year.)
For those of us who can’t donate blood, we can encourage others to do so by volunteering at blood drives, or simply urging our friends, family and social networks to consider donating.
Another impactful way to encourage donation is to sponsor a blood drive, such as at your office, community center, school, or place of worship. As a blood drive host, you can save hundreds of lives!
Will you help end the blood shortage?