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Flu affecting blood donations

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 11:07 a.m. CDT

It’s one of the first questions a person is asked when they donate blood: Are you feeling healthy today?

For many, the answer is no.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza has reached epidemic proportions in nine of 10 regions in the United States, accounting for  7.3 percent of all deaths in the country last week. As a result, some blood banks are reporting donations are down for January, which is National Blood Donor Month.

“Donations are definitely down,” said Jill Moeggenberg, marketing manager of Heartland Blood Center. “Many donors have canceled their appointments and aren’t able to donate because of the flu.”

In a good year, Moeggenberg said blood centers typically struggle in January to meet demand.

“The transfusion demand is generally increasing in January because of patients who have put off elective surgeries during the holidays and scheduled them in January and beyond,” she said.

On Friday, Jan. 11, Moeggenberg estimated Heartland Blood Centers are more than 900 units short of their goal of 13,500 in the first 10 days of the year. They are in urgent need of O-negative and AB-negative blood types.

Heartland Blood Centers provide blood for 47 area hospitals through 17 donation centers in 12 counties in northern Illinois and Indiana.

According to Ben Corey, communications program manager at the American Red Cross, there is no indication that the flu outbreak is having a significant impact on Red Cross blood supplies.

He said there is always a decrease in donations this time of year due to inclement weather and “seasonal illnesses” such as colds and flu.

“Around the holidays, people are busy with travel and shopping,” he said. “We also have a dip during the summer when people are busy with travel and summer plans and because schools are out.”

Besides replenishing blood supplies, Corey said January has been designated National Blood Donor Month to recognize those who donate and to encourage new donations, perhaps from those making a New Year’s resolution.

Corey said there is a constant need for blood at all times. The Heart of America Blood Services Region, which is part of the Red Cross and includes DeKalb, needs to collect 1,500 pints a day to meet patients’ needs. In a normal year, Corey said the Red Cross will collect more than 6 million pints across the nation.

On its website, the Rock River Valley Blood Center reports one in three people will need blood in their lifetime. This year, there will be more than 5 million blood transfusions, 40,000 units a day.

Among other requirements, to donate blood a person must be at least 17 years old, weigh 110 pounds or more, be in good health and feeling well.

Blood center representatives urge anyone who meets these requirements to donate.

“We need to see an increase in blood donations to turn our supplies around,” Moeggenberg said. “We also need additional groups to sponsor blood drives the last two weeks of January or early February, We can do blood drives inside a facility or we can bring our mobile bus out.”

Those interested in donating at Heartland or scheduling a blood drive can find more information at www.heartlandbc.org. For more information about donating or sponsoring a blood drive through the Red Cross, visit www.redcross.org/il/dekalb.

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