Influenza is currently America’s public enemy number one as it has officially reached epidemic proportions in the US and has consequently resulted to blood shortages.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 9 out of 10 US regions had elevated flu activity last week. In non-epidemic circumstances, deaths caused by the flu make up 7.3% of deaths in the US. As of this writing, the number of casualties will be determined yet.
In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency on January 9 as the state’s flu cases are 10 times higher than they were last year while 24 hospitals in Illinois which struggled to cope up with the number of flu cases had to turn away people arriving in the emergency department. According to The Oakland Press, 48 states were reported to have widespread influenza infections on the 3rd week of January. The death toll, though not final and on the rise, includes 29 children who have died from complications caused by the flu.
Aside from the number of people affected by the flu, there is also a greater threat that the country faces: blood shortage. With the outbreak of influenza, healthy donors are hard to come by; anyone who has symptoms of the flu or has the flu means less donations made which causes the scarcity of blood supply.
North Carolina and Texas are among the states that are having blood shortages. Red Cross North Carolina supplies blood to 100 hospitals while the United Blood Services in Texas supplies blood to 18 different hospitals from Van Hom to Deming, New Mexico. It is extremely important for large blood banks to have a continuous supply of blood from generous donors for a steady supply. But the early flu season makes supplying blood harder to achieve.
Because of this, the call for healthy, eligible blood donors to roll up their sleeves gets even louder. After emergency blood shortage has been declared, blood donors from Alabama, Georgia and Florida have helped in the situation. LifeSouth’s Vice President of Operations J.B. Bowles said that the reasons for shortage are widespread flu outbreak, bad weather across Georgia and Alabama and the increase usage of blood from the local hospitals.
Since flu is almost everywhere these days, we find it important for people to know about flu and how it affects the US blood supply.
What is flu?
Influenza, or flu for short, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by Flu virus A or B that spreads frequently during winter and early spring.
People often mistake colds for the flu, but these are actually different types of virus. The only they do have in common is that these are both contagious infections that affect the respiratory tract.
Flu is much worse than a common cold. Like the common cold, flu gives you a headache, causes coughing. But you’ll know it’s a flu when you have high fever for many days in addition to the other symptoms like: really painful muscles (myalgia), sore throat, nasal congestion, fatigue and weakness. A serious case of the flu can result to life-threatening illness like pneumonia.
Why people with flu can’t donate blood?
One requirement in blood donation is you have to be in good health. Although influenza virus has not been proven to be transmitted through blood transfusion, you still cannot give blood if you have flu or a flu-like illness with fever in order to protect the recipients. People needing transfusions often have low immune systems, blood centers take extra precaution for this reason. Once surviving the flu, donors who had the virus should be able to donate after 2 weeks.
Flu’s impact on the blood supply
Since donors who are stricken with this year’s flu cannot give blood, the blood supply in many hospitals and blood banks across the country take a long time to replenish their stocks. The need for blood is constant and local health officials have tirelessly asked for the support of every eligible blood donors out there to shed a pint, regardless of the season. And now that another challenge has presented itself in the face of Americans, we at BloodBanker would like to call the attention of all healthy donors to give blood before it’s too late.
Blood is used everyday in different ways but all for one cause: to SAVE LIVES. Why wait for an epidemic to happen before we are convinced to give blood? Almost every time of the year, blood organizations think of creative ways to get people to donate blood and we are thankful that many have responded. We do hope that those first-timers will make blood donation a regular habit and we all contribute to our nation’s blood supply.
The bottom line is, let us not wait for any natural calamity or epidemic to attack our nation before we give the gift of life. Every two seconds, someone needs blood. Let us give blood whenever we can and save lives however we can.