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Red Cross declares emergency blood shortage affecting US hospitals

The American Red Cross supplies about 40% of the country's blood, but its supply levels are reaching historic lows.
Red Cross declares emergency blood shortage affecting US hospitals
Posted at 4:23 PM, Jan 08, 2024

The American Red Cross is sounding the alarm over a severe blood shortage affecting hospitals across the U.S.

The nonprofit said Monday its number of blood donors has dropped about 40% over the last 20 years, and today, it's at its all-time lowest point in that time frame. 

Even just between Christmas and New Year's Day, a 7,000-unit shortfall in blood donations majorly disrupted the availability of blood products and the emergency plans for those who need them, causing surgery and transfusion delays. The Red Cross worries supply will face an even bleaker outlook as potentially hazardous weather and respiratory illnesses may keep donor turnout low just as hospitals need more blood.

"One of the most distressing situations for a doctor is to have a hospital full of patients and an empty refrigerator without any blood products," said Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the Red Cross.

The organization has been trying to avoid this situation for some time, telling the public in September that  the blood supply had fallen to "critically low levels" after declaring its first-ever blood crisis in 2022.

SEE MORE: Critical Blood Supply Shortage Creates Concern For Laboring Moms

The Red Cross has reported that the pandemic contributed to donor decline, as more people stayed home and missed blood drives, many of which were coordinated with local businesses. Prior to that, hospital protocols and changes in eligibility — like minimum hemoglobin levels — had already challenged the company's ability to keep a donor base.

Now the nation's largest blood supplier is stressing that the availability of blood can be the difference between life and death for someone needing medical care, noting someone needs blood every two seconds in the U.S.

To encourage donation, the Red Cross has partnered with the NFL to offer donors a chance to win a trip for two people to attend Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. Anyone who donates blood, plasma or platelets this month — National Blood Donor Month — will automatically be entered for a chance to win.

Eligible whole blood donors must be in good health, be at least 16 years old in most states and weigh at least 110 pounds. Other eligibility requirements, such as for platelet and plasma donations, are listed here.

Recently, the FDA dropped restrictions barring gay and bisexual people from donating after it made its donation risk assessment tool the same for any person. The federal agency said it hoped the move would expand the amount of donors and therefore increase the dwindling supply.

To find a blood drive near you, enter your zip code here

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