How safe are blood transfusions?
Dr. Douglas Street, Contributor
Blood transfusions are sometimes a controversial issue. In fact, there is at least one religious group which is totally opposed to it, even if it means dying. But how safe are they?
The Bible does speak against consuming blood because this is unsafe and unhealthy, especially back in those days. Populations that consume blood usually have a shorter lifespan, so the consumption of blood is not recommended.
Blood transfusion, on the other hand, is a very safe procedure when done under the internationally recognised standards that are used locally and abroad.
Groups not allowed to donate
First of all, there are certain groups that are not allowed to give blood. These include persons with chronic illnesses, those who practice anal sex, and persons with tattoos. Some persons are not allowed to give blood for their own safety, such as those below a certain weight and anaemic persons.
Blood is tested for infections such as HIV, HTLV, syphilis, hepatitis and sickle cell. The blood is also tested to see what type it is, as persons with certain blood types can only get certain type(s) of blood. There are four blood types: A, B, AB and O. Then, there is the rhesus factor which is negative or positive. The most common blood type in Jamaica is O positive. Before blood is given to an individual, the donor blood and recipient blood are combined in the lab and checked for incompatibility. Persons with AB positive blood can receive from anyone, and those with O negative blood can give to anyone.
Types of transfusion
There are different types of transfusion. It can be whole blood (all the components unseparated), packed cells (a concentration of the red cells), plasma (the clear part of the blood) and platelets (the cell fragments which clot the blood). Blood transfusions are given according to which type is most needed. Whole blood is usually given when there is life-threatening blood loss. There is no substitute for blood.
Blood transfusion may be unsafe for certain individuals such as those with congestive heart failure and high potassium. Blood transfusion may also cause allergic reaction and fever, but these are usually easily treated. There is a special permission form that must be signed before a patient is given blood.
Donated blood is kept in a special storage facility called a blood bank. It has a shelf life of 42 days as it breaks down over time. The donation of blood is also very safe.