Red Cross appeals for blood donations amidst Zika scares

Posted July 20

The American Red Cross says the nation's blood supply is running critically low and is asking for donors to step up within the next week. But there's one group of people who should stay away — anyone who might have been exposed to Zika. (Deseret Photo)

The American Red Cross has issued an emergency appeal for blood donations, saying the nation's supply is critically low because of the July Fourth holiday and summer vacations. But there's another reason health officials are concerned: the possibility of the Zika virus being transmitted through blood donations.

The Food and Drug Administration has asked blood banks to reject donors who might be at risk for Zika, the mosquito-born virus that can cause birth defects. Anyone who has traveled to a country with a high Zika risk, or who has been intimate with someone who did, should not donate for four weeks, Shefali Luthra of Kaiser Health News reported on

“We need to protect the blood supply. It would be a major scandal if there were cases of Zika transmitted — particularly if it affected women of child-bearing age," Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown University and faculty director of its O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, said in the PBS report.

Moreover, "There is no widely available, government-approved blood test to screen donations, though one is being used on an experimental basis for blood collected in Puerto Rico and Houston," Luthra wrote.

So far, there have been few people turned away because of the potential for Zika exposure — just one-tenth of 1 percent, Lutrha's report said. Any loss, however, is of concern to the America Red Cross, which supplies more than 40 percent of the blood needed by the nation's hospitals.

The Red Cross says donations always dip during the summer, and about 650 fewer blood drives are held during the week of July 4 than in other weeks of the year. That's an especially bad time for a decline, since August is usually the month with the most car accidents, and the Red Cross says a single car-accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.

“Right now, blood products are being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in, which is why we are making this emergency request for donations,” Nick Gehrig, communications director for Red Cross Blood Services, said in a statement.

“Donations are urgently needed now to meet the needs of hospital patients in the coming days and weeks. If you’ve thought about giving blood and helping to save lives, now is the time to do it," Gehrig said.

To donate, you must be at least 17 years old (although in some states, you can donate at 16 with parental consent), weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health.

While it takes just eight to 10 minutes to draw a pint of blood, the entire process takes about an hour and 15 minutes, the Red Cross says. To speed the process, however, the organization offers online registration called RapidPass that allows donors to fill out a health questionnaire before arriving at the collection site.

About 38 percent of Americans are eligible to donate blood, but fewer than 10 percent of us do, the Red Cross says. To learn where you can donate, go to or call 1-800-733-2767.


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