How safe is a blood transfusion?

blood2You’re scheduled to have surgery and your doctor tells you that you may need a blood transfusion.

You’re immediately concerned. How safe are blood transfusions?

“The U.S. blood supply has never been safer,” says Walter J. Linz, MD, Medical Director of the Scott & White Blood Center and Transfusion Medicine.

“Your chances of getting HIV from a unit of blood are 1 in 2 million. The chances of getting Hepatitis C are also 1 in 2 million. The chances of getting Hepatitis B are 1 in 400,000. There hasn’t been a case of transfusion-transmitted syphilis in the United States since 1969,” says Dr. Linz.

“Our blood supply at Scott & White is extremely safe. We have a three-pronged system of ensuring we have the safest possible blood supply,” says Dr. Linz.

Dr. Linz outlines the specific safety procedures Scott & White has in place to ensure the blood collected from donors in the Scott & White Blood Center is:

  • Free of disease
  • Compatible with your blood type

Step # 1 – Ensure that Patients and Specimens Are Correctly Identified

“The most important thing is to make sure that we identify the patient and the specimen correctly. There are multiple redundant systems in place to correctly identify the donors and samples being collected from them,” says Dr. Linz.

Correct identification works on two levels:

  • Donors and their blood must be identified correctly
  • Transfusion recipients and their blood types must be identified correctly

“Making sure that patients are correctly identified and their blood is correctly labeled is the primary step in ensuring the safety of our transfusion recipients,” says Dr. Linz.

Step # 2 – Ensure that All Blood Donated Receives a Type and Screen

Donor blood and recipient blood must be carefully cross-matched so that patients receiving transfusions get blood with which they are compatible.

Before receiving a blood transfusion, all patients at Scott & White — except in emergencies — will receive a thorough analysis of red blood cells and plasma, including ABO blood typing and a screen for minor antibodies.

“Our Scott & White lab is properly accredited and performs ABO and Rh red cell typing and antibody screening prior to transfusion, unless it’s an emergent situation,” says Dr. Linz.

This second safety measure ensures that you won’t have an incompatible blood transfusion.

Step # 3 – Ensure that the Blood Supply Complies with All Federal Rules and Regulations

“The third way we ensure that the blood product you’re getting is safe is that we properly screen all donors using federally mandated donor screening questions. The intent of the questions is to screen out anyone who may have even a small risk of having a transfusion transmissible disease,” Dr. Linz says.

“There are multiple redundant systems in place to correctly identify the donors and samples being collected from them.”

“For example,” explains Dr. Linz, “we look closely at travel history to prevent malaria transmission. Potential donors with other high-risk behaviors such as I.V. drug use are removed from the donor pool. We follow up on anything in a donor’s history that might negatively affect the safety of the blood product.”

The blood you receive is only as safe as the donor. It’s the job of the blood center employees to ask the right follow-up questions to cull out potentially tainted blood.

Additionally, and as another step to ensure the safety of the blood, all blood is screened in an FDA-approved laboratory using only licensed donor screening tests to check for HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases. Furthermore, Dr. Linz says, Scott & White has systems in place that ensure that the donated blood is not only labeled correctly, but also processed and stored with meticulous precision as well.

“Our lab complies with all the necessary rules and regulations, so that the blood supply is as safe as possible,” says Dr. Linz.

Blood Collected Here Is Transfused Here

Another reason the blood supply is exceptionally safe is that the blood donated here directly benefits the people of Central Texas. Our blood donations aren’t shipped outside our community, as other blood centers often do.

“The blood that’s collected here is transfused here. We collect it from the donor and it goes to the recipient, vein-to-vein. As a result, we have a better ability to track and trace blood here,” says Dr. Linz.

Dr. Linz: “The vein-to-vein system here is one of the distinctions of the Scott & White Blood Center.”

Furthermore, the Scott & White Blood Center is a hospital-based site.

“We have a more secure supply, and we have a stable set of donors. It’s always safer to get blood from someone who’s donated multiple times because they’ve been screened multiple times — versus a first-time donor, because a first-time donor is higher risk,” explains Dr. Linz.

“The fact that we’re a hospital-based blood center is extraordinary,” says Dr. Linz.

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How safe is a blood transfusion?