By Michael Haederle

Call for Heroes

Need for Blood Donations Remains High Amid Coronavirus Fears

With anxiety surrounding the spread of infectious COVID-19 novel coronavirus touching nearly every facet of American life, blood banks are seeing a precipitous drop in donations, which puts patients who need transfusions at serious risk.

University of New Mexico physicians want people to know that the need for blood donations for trauma victims and other seriously ill patients remains constant, and they are asking members of the public to step up.

"I know there's a lot of fear surrounding the coronavirus these days," said Sonlee West, MD, an associate professor and director of trauma services at UNM Hospital. "I want to encourage people to continue to donate blood or consider donating blood for our cancer patients and trauma victims."

The drop in blood donations is being felt here in New Mexico, especially as businesses and schools are canceling scheduled blood donation events, said Lizabeth Rosenbaum, MD, medical director for Vitalent (formerly United Blood Services) in New Mexico and Texas.

The New Mexico-Texas region has seen donations from its mobile blood drives drop by 60 percent in the past week, Rosenbaum said, and nationally, the blood bank network has seen a 17 percent decline in the number of donors coming in to blood centers.

Mobile blood drives entail bringing a bus or van equipped to receive donations to businesses and schools, and they normally account for about 60 percent of the blood supply, Rosenbaum said.

"Businesses are saying that their national offices are not allowing them to have any blood drawings," she said. "Others are just saying, 'We're scared - we just don't want to have blood drives.'"

The drop in donations is dangerous, because UNM Hospital has a continuous need for fresh supplies of donated blood, Rosenbaum said.

"As more and more drives are cancelling, these numbers will continue to get worse," she said. "Because the cancellations are happening to our organization nationwide, having blood brought into our region will not be possible."

Patients need not fear exposure to novel coronavirus if they visit the Vitalent blood collection center at 1515 University Blvd NE in Albuquerque, where infection control measures are in place and procedures for ensuring sterile blood donation are standard practice, Rosenbaum said.

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