Blood shortage worsens because of Y2K concern

American Red Cross has about one day's supply

January 10, 2000|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Add one more item to the short list of problems linked to Y2K: the Baltimore-Washington area's emergency blood supply is lower than normal at the end of the holiday season.

The American Red Cross, which needs 1,100 pints of blood a day to meet the needs of area hospitals, is down to a day's supply or less of the three most common blood types.

Red Cross spokesman Patrick Smith said the agency frequently has blood shortages in late summer and after the Christmas and new year holidays, but this one is worse.

"A lot of the companies that we rely on to have blood drives were kind of wrapped up in their own Y2K anxieties this year," Smith said. "That made a bad situation worse. And now within the past few days, we're seeing that this terrible flu is also having a bad effect on the blood supply," because the agency doesn't accept donations from people with colds or influenza.

Eighty-four hospitals between Northern Virginia and Gettysburg, Pa., rely on the Baltimore-based Red Cross regional headquarters for much of the blood they use, Smith said.

The demand is especially acute in Baltimore because of the busy trauma centers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, which use about a third of the region's donated blood.

Red Cross officials like to keep a three-day supply, but since early last week supplies of type O -- the most prized of donations because it is compatible with all blood types -- and type B have been down to about half a day, while type A blood has about a one-day supply. Officials said they have an adequate supply of type AB.

Shortfalls in early January and late summer are becoming more common each year, Smith said. In addition to corporate blood drives, the agency relies heavily on donors from local schools and colleges, which take a break from blood drives during holiday vacations, putting a strain on the supply.

Smith said Red Cross workers are aggressively soliciting donations from companies that regularly stage blood drives, and are also appealing to the public.

"We need help," Smith said. "We have blood donor centers all over the area and blood drives going on in schools every day. There are plenty of places where people can contribute."

Information: 800-GIVE-LIF(E).

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