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Regional Drop in O-Negative Blood Highlights Need for a New Habit in Californians

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At an entertaining blood drive | Photo by jeremyfoo via Flickr

At an entertaining blood drive | Photo by jeremyfoo via Flickr
Running desperately low on the rare blood type, health officials in Antelope Valley put out an urgent call for O-negative blood donors yesterday. "The blood bank is experiencing a significant increase in the number of patients requiring this rare blood type," the AV Hospital Blood Donor Center stated in an e-mail appeal. "Due to an ongoing regional shortage of type O-negative blood we have been unable to obtain additional replacement units from outside suppliers."

The Southern California area is currently at less than a 2-day supply of O-negative blood. "It's not an ideal situation," explained Nick Samaniego, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross. "Ideal would be a 3 to 5-day supply."

In a region where less than 5 percent of the donor base is O-negative, it's not unusual to see a drop at this time of year. Adding to that, less than 3 percent of the area adult population donates blood. "We need to encourage people to donate ahead of time," said Samaniego. "It's great people come in post-disaster, but really that blood needs to be there ahead of time. The blood that's going to help people after a disaster is blood that was received 2 days prior."

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Not only does donated blood need to be tested for diseases, components of it do not an indefinite shelf life. Platelets last five days, red cells can hang on for 42 days and plasma lasts one year because it can be frozen.

"It's really a matter of how you want to look at it," noted Samaniego. "We don't want to scare people into thinking that there is a shortage. As long as people continue to honor their blood appointments, we should be able to pull out of this--we're not in a situation like in the past where we're on an emergency appeal."

Samaniego says that if people made it a habit, perhaps coming in to donate blood 3 or 4 times a year, we wouldn't be in this situation. "What's not hard for us is getting people through the door, it's getting them to come back," he said.