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Our blood supply is safer than ever


I WAS distressed by the Joseph Feldschuh and Doron Weber comments on the safety of the blood supply (Other Voices, Nov. 29). This type of scare tactic only revives unfounded old fears that AIDS is a major threat to recipients of blood products. Its sole purpose was to frighten people into irrational behavior.

Isn't it ironic that Feldschuh directs a personal blood storage bank that is suspiciously similar to the kind he recommends we all use to freeze our own blood for later use? This fact should not be overlooked. The public needs to know that the vast majority of such firms have already folded, and Feldschuh is likely touting his new book to stay in business. The reason these facilities have failed is that the informed public realizes their services are expensive, impractical and unnecessary. An accident victim on vacation who requires blood is not likely to have enough units stored in such a facility, or to have it properly thawed and delivered to a hospital in time to have any lifesaving benefit.

I hope that readers will see that Feldschuh/Weber employ hype instead of facts. By the authors' own admission, the numbers of Americans who have contracted AIDS from blood transfusions did so before 1985, the year a licensed AIDS antibody test became available. It is a published fact that since donor screening began in Baltimore, the number of positive HIV donors has decreased from 51 cases per 100,000 donors in 1985 to 13 per 100,000 in the first six months of 1988. These 13 were detected well before their blood was even considered for shipment to hospitals, and their donations were discarded.

Since testing began, there have been over 120 million transfusions nationally. Fewer than a dozen of these transfusions have resulted in confirmed AIDS cases. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, a hospital patient faces a 1 in 100,000 chance of contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion, about the same risk we all face of being struck by lightning.

All blood collected is also tested for other diseases, including several types of hepatitis and syphilis. Currently, each individual donor unit undergoes seven different tests. Other, rare blood-borne diseases are effectively screened through the donor deferral process. All these factors, plus the fact that we have a healthy pool of regular, volunteer donors, has made our blood supply safer than it has ever been.

Despite the statistics and all assurances, some people may not wish to accept a blood transfusion. The Red Cross has always maintained that autologous blood (one's own) is always the safest. There are several effective methods of planned autologous blood donations currently available to many patients. These include predeposit programs for surgery which can handle the vast majority of elective surgery blood needs without freezing . . .

But let's discuss these options rationally so that informed decisions can be made. By discussing a variety of options with their physicians, patients also free up the community blood supply for people who have no options, such as accident victims.

Paul M. Ness, M.D., is executive head of the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Regional Blood Services and director of the Johns Hopkins Blood Bank.

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