Flu causing blood donation shortage in Texas

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A shortage in blood donations is taking a toll on the available blood supply in Texas. According to blood banks in West and East Texas, there is a need for Type O blood to replenish depleting inventory levels.

“With lots of flu and sickness going around it really makes it challenging for us to meet our hospital patients’ needs for blood,” said Brandon Baker, senior recruitment manager at Vitalant. The organization runs a network of blood donation centers nationwide.

Baker blames the winter season for the drop. People with colds, the flu, or any other upper-respiratory illnesses are unable to donate.

“We want to make sure that you’re healthy and well in order to come donate blood,” Baker said.

“Here in West Texas we use pretty much everything we draw,” he explained. “With Lubbock being kind of a medical Mecca of sorts, with big hospitals here, everything that is donated here almost always stays here.”

“Those O donors are the ones that can donate to hospital patients if they don’t know their blood type or if there’s a big shortage, oftentimes doctors will go to the Os first — so there’s a shortage for all blood types, but specifically right now is we are trying to reach out to O donors to come in and donate,” said Baker.

Vitalant’s Lubbock division uses about 100 units of blood each day. We Are Blood Central Texas, which serves 40 hospitals in a 10-county region, estimates needing 200 units each day. Carter BloodCare in Tyler needs 1,000 units per day, a spokesperson for the organization said.

“We are short as well here in East Texas area,” said Carter BloodCare operations manager Jacque Decker.

“We rely on our high schools a lot in East Texas, they are about a third of our blood supply and when school is out we have to find those donors from our community,” Decker said. “And then also everyone is busy with the hustle and bustle of the holiday time frame, they are buying gifts and if they’re with family, and donation is not at the top of their list.”

We Are Blood in Austin reported a low supply over the holidays, but Central Texans answered the call.

“When we think we have a nice hold on the supply, that can go away without warning,” the group’s communications and content manager, Phillip Lybrand said.

“Right now we’re apparently doing a lot better than the rest of Texas,” Lybrand said of the Capital region. “We’re always doing our best throughout the year to do what we can to get our people in here.”

January is National Blood Donor Month, an effort started in the 1970s to bring awareness to shortages that typically come in the winter season. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg put out a call for donors this week.

“As we begin the new year I am asking you to give the gift of life to area patients in hospitals by donating blood,” Nirenberg said. “It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s painless, and you make a great difference in the lives of so many people.”

Whether resources are depleted or inventories are sufficient, blood banks are constantly looking to stock up. Whole blood has a shelf life of up to six weeks, and platelets can be stored typically for 3-5 days.

“Make that your New Year’s resolution is to come in and transform a life and donate blood because it really does make a big difference to our local hospital patients here every day,” Baker said.

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