Flu Causing Lower Blood Donor Turnout Across Texas

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Blood donor turnout has dipped in Texas, and experts blame the flu.

At Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, blood banks and blood drives are drying up.

“There are just a lot of sick donors right now,” said Frances Baker, donor recruiter at Abilene’s Meek Blood Center, which serves 17 area hospitals within a roughly 150-mile radius.

“We’re in critical need right now,” she said. “Our blood inventory is extremely low and we’ve tried calling other blood centers across the country to see if they could help out. They’re all in the same boat we are.”

On the South Plains, the blood supply has not dipped into the “critical” range, but blood centers are feeling the decline in donors.

“Blood donations have dropped drastically over last couple months,” United Blood Services director of donor recruitment Brandon Baker said. “Donors that would have normally donated aren’t feeling up to it.”

He said blood centers in the Lubbock area are still filling hospital orders but “backup supply is pretty low.” He said they use 130 pints every day, seven days a week, so “it adds up.”

“Luckily locally the blood is there but it’s important that we beef up backup supply,” he explained, citing the need to prepare for trauma situations or an influx of surgeries. “That’s when it can get dangerous.”

Meanwhile, We Are Blood, located in Central Texas, is not at critical levels, though staff has noticed an increase in no-shows and cancellations, likely flu-related. The organization said Spring Break and SXSW generally align with a drop in donations. Combined with a few months remaining in flu season, the group wants to ensure there is a consistent supply.

“Just day-to-day, the blood need in the community, it can only be maintained really by consistent donation,” We Are Blood community outreach manager Rob Hill said. “About 38 percent of the American population is eligible to donate blood, and only about 10 percent, I believe, of them do. If we can just get people to donate once a year, don’t need a couple of times a year, do it on a semi-regular basis, it would make a huge impact.”

Because there are so many variables at play, it is hard for experts to predict future outcomes. A single accident or trauma incident can deplete resources, particularly O negative blood. Blood that is being stored can expire. Hill said the shelf life for red blood cells is 42 days. Platelets are also a crucial necessity, and those only have a five-day shelf life.

“If we do get low and we send out a call for donors, that means we got a big lump of donors at once and that means all that blood is going to expire out around the same time,” Hill said.

Some blood banks are hosting drives and other donation events regionally. Recruiters are asking the public to consider donating blood.

“If you’re well and healthy, please come out and try to donate blood. There are a lot of patients depending on blood transfusions,” Frances Baker said. “It could be a premature baby, it could be a cancer patient, someone having surgery, or someone in a trauma, and the bottom line is we have to have blood to save their lives and it can only come from volunteer donors in our community.”

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