June 16, 2020

Why Giving Blood Is Necessary During a Pandemic

Briana Pastorino, Loma Linda University Health News

COVID-19 brought much of the world to a screeching halt, isolating people in their homes, taking kids out of school, and closing the doors to many businesses. According to Tait Stevens, a pathologist and president of medical staff at Loma Linda University Health, the need for blood donation still exists. With the help of donors, hospitals across the country and the world have remained open and operational, dedicated to providing lifesaving care to patients.

“Modern medicine depends on blood transfusions,” Stevens says, “and many patients depend on blood donations to get the care they need.”

COVID-19 has forced many hospitals, including Loma Linda University Health, to serve patients at a different capacity by temporarily closing clinics and suspending elective services and procedures, and resorting to virtual care in many cases. Yet the need for blood still exists to perform blood transfusions needed in most emergent cases, such as traumas, cancer care, orthopedic surgeries, and others.

“Despite a consistent and growing need for blood, fewer people are donating blood right now,” Stevens says.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the number of blood donations dramatically declined due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives.

Now, as the world is phasing back to normalcy, hospitals are resuming nonemergent and elective surgical procedures and patient treatments that were temporarily paused during the pandemic. Blood donors are urged to give now to ensure blood products are readily available for patients.

Blood Donation and COVID-19

Individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 don’t typically need a blood transfusion, but those who recover from the virus could potentially help treat those who are currently infected by donating convalescent plasma.

“Convalescent plasma is a promising treatment for COVID-19 patients,” Stevens says. “As the popularity of that is climbing, we need people who have recovered to donate more than ever.”

Once a patient recovers from COVID-19, their plasma contains antibodies that could potentially ward off the virus. One convalescent plasma donation takes one to two hours and has the potential to treat up to four patients currently battling the disease.

Types of Donations

The most common type of donation is a whole-blood donation, during which all parts of the blood — including red blood cells and plasma — are collected simultaneously, or as a whole. About a pint of blood is collected during this process and, beginning from registration, takes approximately one hour, depending on the donor.

When a specific component of blood is needed, such as red cells, platelets, and plasma, an apheresis donation is done. Instead of collecting a unit — a pint or approximately 475 ml — of blood as a whole, this process collects whole blood from the donor, isolates the needed component, then returns the remaining components along with a saline solution back to the donor. Apheresis donations take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the donor and the specifics of the donation.

Acknowledging the investment involved with blood donation, Stevens says he is appreciative of all blood donors.

“A typical liver transplant requires roughly ten units of blood — as a blood donor, I know that’s about 20 hours invested for blood donation,” he says. “The rest of the staff at Loma Linda University Health and I are very grateful for the donors who make it possible for us to take care of patients.”

The original version of this story was posted on the Loma Linda University Health news site.