How Is The Blood Supply In The US?

Twice in the past year I’ve been this close to having a blood transfusion, stopped at the last second (long story).

I feel bad about taking donor blood, especially considering that I’m not particularly acutely sick or injured. I would much rather see it go to a patient with more acute need.

My understanding is that the blood supply in the US has always been on the razor’s edge of being too small. Is that still the case, or are there enough donors these days to keep a healthy blood supply going?

My understanding is that it can vary dramatically by region, time of year, etc. Bear in mind that the “blood supply in the US” is decentralized, with dozens of organizations and companies providing blood to hospitals, most of which operate on a local or regional level.

This page looks like it shows overall readiness in the US, and by region, though it’s hard to drill down further than region. It indicates that the inventory level is currently “critical” for only a few centers, and that most centers currently have a sufficient supply.

From that map it looks like the situation in Missouri is far from ideal, but not critical. That’s a bit reassuring, anyway.

Viewing from outside the US, I was always bemused by the system whereby people could sell blood for cash. Is this actually a significant part of the national system’s supply? From memory weren’t some of these clinics singled out as failing in screening practices during the early years of HIV-AIDS?

There are occasional local shortages but in most of the country a lot of excess blood is disposed of daily. The blood supply mainly comes from non-profits that run blood drives and try to maintain high regular donation rates independent of demand. To be fair, demand for blood is unpredictable.

There’s no reason to feel bad about taking blood, most of the time it would get thrown away if it wasn’t given to you. And you’ll feel a lot worse if you die. I received 4 units about month ago to counter internal bleeding.

Later on I may rant about the Red Cross and their practices.

As far as I know, most (if not all) whole blood in the US comes from volunteer donations, and the donors don’t receive cash for it (though I’ve certainly been to blood donation drives where they offered small-value gift cards to donors).

I know that you can make some money by selling blood plasma (which isn’t the same as donating a pint of blood); I had friends in college who did this to make extra money for beer.

In some sense, the supply is always razor-thin: Even with refrigeration, blood only stays good for a few days to a week, and so if there weren’t any donations for that amount of time, they’d run out.

As far as I know, you can’t sell blood for money. You can sell plasma - er, you can be “compensated” for the “time you spend donating.” I did it for years, made about $50-60 per week pot money doing it.

From a health standpoint, it’s better to not get a transfusion if you don’t really need it. There’s always the risk of getting some disease from a transfusion.

As far as I know, that’s the case. In general, blood banks don’t buy whole blood. People will talk about selling their blood, but they really mean selling plasma. And the plasma that’s bought is mostly not given directly to another person but rather has various chemicals, such as antibodies, extracted from it.

For the last four years the American Red Cross has been sending me an email letting me know where my blood has been used. It’s been as close as 11 miles from my house, and as far away as 563 miles away, so they appear to be regionally decentralized, with blood going some pretty good distances based on needs.

If the blood goes more than a few miles away the emails always start out with a statement about local needs, for example; “After first ensuring local needs were met, your double red cell donation was sent to Springs Memorial Hospital in Lancaster, SC and New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, NC to help patients in need.”

You get that phrase about local needs first being met when the blood goes as little as 100 miles away, so that may give you an idea as to what the Red Cross considers local.

That is surprising. When they do throw out people’s blood (due to freshness), I would think they would not want to tell people that. It doesn’t incentivize people to come back.

Blood is perishable. If it isn’t used within a certain time frame it has to be thrown out anyway. The blood you didn’t receive may or may not have gone to someone else, depending on need.

If you have a common blood type odds are your area is adequately supplied.

I’ve never been told that my blood was discarded. I’m O Positive, which is the most common blood type, so my blood is appropriate for nearly 40% of the population. I’d have to go through the emails to figure out if any donations didn’t get an email, they usually come around a month after the donation so I’m not usually looking for them, and if they discarded the blood they may simply not send one, and I wouldn’t have missed it.

They also have the option of using it for research purposes, but I’ve never been informed of that; so it must be relatively infrequent. I’m usually a double red donor and several times they’ve broken up donations and used them hundreds of miles apart so I’m assuming there must be some impressive logistics behind the blood supply chain.

Couple piggybacks:

  1. As blood types go, I don’t suspect there’s much need for my AB+ given I can take pretty much anything in the fridge but almost nobody can use what I’ve got. Is there stuff They can do to AB+ to make it worth donating?
  2. My FIL had some leukemia that had him getting transfusions fairly frequently. Apparently, after a while your body starts rejecting even the same type if it starts seeing too much that just isn’t yours. Is that actually the case, and if so, what’s up with that?

A few years ago, I read about researchers who were trying to remove the A and B bits and convert donated bood to type O. These bits are actually short chains of sugar molecules attached to proteins on red blood cells. They can be removed with the appropriate enzyme. I haven’t heard anything lately about this, so I have no idea about what, if any, progress has been made.

:googling: OK, here’s the story from 3 years ago,

While anyone can take O-, and an AB+ patient can take anything, it’s still always best to match the type completely. If a patient is AB+, and they know that, then they’ll use your blood instead of an O- donor’s.

Also, the rule for who can donate to whom is reversed for plasma (as opposed to red-cell donations or whole blood): Anyone can accept AB+ plasma without problems, but only O- can take O- plasma without problems (though the problems are less severe than with red cells).

Typically, when you donate whole blood, they’ll separate it into plasma, red cells, and platelets, for different purposes. But you can also donate just plasma or just platelets, which also have a much shorter turnaround time for how often you can donate.

Keep in mind that the ABO and Rh +/- that we hear about aren’t the whole story regarding blood (they are the most serious). According to wikipedia, there are 346 red blood cell antigens and 33 platelet antigens that have been identified and the Rh factor (the +/-) we talk about only tracks 1 of 50 antigens in that group.

So, if you are receiving lots of blood transfusions, your body probably will start rejecting blood that conforms to your ABO Rh +/- blood type.

Mine always seems to end up in the Carolina’s also. I donated yesterday (got the T-shirt) and will update this thread if I remember too when I get the usage email you mentioned.

This business of finding out where your donated whole blood winds up is pretty fascinating- and utterly new to me. I grew up in Philly and started donating as soon as I was of age. ( 16 I think back in the 1970’s ?? ) Never got a notify about use location.

Now I’m in NY State for the last 30-odd years and have never gotten a thing from the New York Blood supply people indicating where my donated units are used. No matter, just interesting.

I’m A-, RH Factor. I’m mighty popular with these folks, and so when I can donate I don’t give a pint of whole blood. I give 2 units of RBC. Much more useful to them with a rare type.

Every time I give, I take a moment and post to Facebook, urging my “friends” to take some time out of their day to donate.

My receiving notifications of the point of use for my donated blood started around the same time I started using the Red Cross Blood app on my phone. That may be a coincidence; it’s been about five years since my first notification and I’m not sure when I started using the app, but it was close to that time.