Donated blood supply logistics.

My sister donates blood once in a blue moon, and our voicemail gets a constant barrage of messages from the Red Cross asking for more because of “critical shortages of her type”. Which raises a few questions:

Is there ever really a “critical shortage” of blood, or are people bombarded with these types of messages as a scare tactic to make sure there actually isn’t?

What happens if there’s a “critical shortage” of blood. Does Tiny Tim die after his horrible sleigh accident because there’s no blood for him or does some rich diva have to postpone her tummy tuck for a few weeks until they can coax my sister in again?

Do they ever have “enough” blood of a certain type and don’t need or want more. Say type AB+ or something?

Also, people are shocked I don’t know my own blood type, and you keep hearing about how you should carry your blood type in your wallet. If you’re in an accident and need a blood tranfusion, wouldn’t they either find out for sure rather than trusting what’s on some card you carry or else just give O- if there wasn’t time for that?

I don’t know very much if anything about the world of blood donations. My understanding is that blood doesn’t keep very long outside your body so even if they maxed out on say, A+, that supply would only be good for a month or so and it’s not worth it to tell all the A+ people, don’t come in and two weeks later, hurry come in.

If your local Red Cross says there is a shortage of A positive blood then it’s probably true. There would be no reason for them to stockpile more blood than they need since it’s perishable. Often times I see messages around the holidays when there are more traffic accidents and the demand goes up.

If there are tornadoes or hurricanes that devastate a particular area of the country they will often ship blood around to make sure there is enough in the right places. That may cause a localized shortage of a particular type.

I am O negative, so they love my blood. I am the universal donor, meaning that everyone will accept my blood in a transfusion. I donate blood every two months or so.

If you have a card (like I do) with your blood type on it that may come in handy if they don’t have O negative in the ambulance.

I don’t know my blood type. I mentioned it to my GP, since I have blood work done every three months. He said he could type it for me, but it’s such a coarse mechanism. There are so many other factors that go into determining suitability for blood.


There is such a thing as a critical shortage, one night I personally gave 40+ blood products to a patient. After we exhausted our supply of her negative blood type we had to give her positive blood. This is at a major LA area trauma center so the supply we keep on hand is rather large but between me and the OR we gave 90+ blood products (packed blood cells, fresh frozen plasma, platelets and cryoprecipitate). For the next month our blood donor center sent out "critical shortage’ e-mails and offered incentives (movie tickets, coffee mugs) to donate.

When blood is that low, our policy is to cancel elective surgeries, of course encouraging people to pre-donate their own blood when able.

The shelf life of each component of your blood varies so I have never heard of a donor center turning someone away. For us, if we don’t need it another hospital might.
Link to Red Cross Site.http://

If you are in an accident and need a transfusion, no one is going to check and see if you have a little card on your person with your blood type. You get Normal Saline, Lactated Ringers or Albumin first, then only if very necessary will you get uncross-matched blood, until the lab can type and screen you. Believe me, your test goes to the front of the line.

My Take away message for everyone who is able, please donate! :cool:

There really are critical shortages, and the Red Cross is careful about declaring one because of the “crying wolf” phenomenon. The shortages are most often local, and sometimes can be alleviated by shipping in units from elsewhere in the country - for example, after Hurricane Irene hit the east coast and flooding caused many blood drives to be canceled, blood drives were stepped up elsewhere and the extra supply was distributed to where it was needed. If would be great if we could stockpile it, but Inner Stickler is right - blood is only good for about 40 or so days after donation, depending on which type of anticoagulant and additives the donor center is using. Red cells are alive, after all, and they have a relatively short lifespan even within the body.

Hospitals will do their damnedest to keep enough blood on the refrigerator shelves for the true emergencies. I’ve seen the shortage get bad enough in the hospital I worked in that elective surgeries had to be postponed depending on the patient’s blood type. We couldn’t get enough Opos, Oneg, Bpos, or Bneg blood to supply enough for the surgical schedule. We got short enough that we had to use Opos blood for some Oneg patients - which is safe the first time, but can cause them to make antibodies, which would make another dose dangerous.

Yes and no. I’ve never seen Apos critically low, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. There’s not a huge need for ABpos units, but there are proportionally fewer ABpos donors, too. And don’t forget, the blood is separated into components: AB plasma can be given to any blood type, so that stuff is very valuable.

Yes, they would type you as soon as possible, and give you uncrossmatched type O blood in a trauma situation until your type can be determined. If you’ve never had surgery or needed a transfusion, there’s no reason for you to have had your blood type checked. It’s not a routine test for an annual physical or anything.

Nope, there is no way any medical professional will read your Apos donor card in your wallet and think, whew, thank goodness, we can give him Apos units! You’re going to be getting O packed cells and AB plasma until your blood type can be confirmed in the lab. A mistake is fatal in this situation.

There is another factor other than blood type. The blood center will test for CMV.

My blood type is not common, and I am CMV negative. Statistically only about 4% of the population shares that blood type. I was told that the CMV negative was especially desired for preemies and transplant patients. I would get calls on a regular basis from the blood bank. I became an apheresis donor until a bout with melanoma disqualified me.

Your sister may be CMV- and that might be what is triggering the calls. Have her do a social duty and donate.