We’re still in a season of low blood donations and high need at hospitals and blood banks in the region. But the Red Cross Blood Center in Omaha will stop taking one kind of donation. Spokeswoman Lisa Kustka explains it’s another step to ensure the blood supply’s safe from contamination and infection, including the West Nile Virus. She calls it “yet another layer of safety” as more blood samples test positive for West Nile Virus. They’ve quit taking plasma, from plasma-only donors. Typically, West Nile cases peak in late August and early September. Three cases of the mosquito-borne disease have been confirmed in Nebraska this season, just one in Kansas and none in humans this summer in Iowa…so far. Still, Kustka says the blood banks want to be certain their supply is safe. That’s why every donor, every time, answers a “health history” list of more than fifty questions. “We don’t make it easy for people to donate,” she laughs ruefully, “and I know that’s very frustrating for people.” But she says taking the health history helps ensure there isn’t any condition that would make it risky for a donor to donate, as well as ensuring their donation’s as safe as can be for the patient who’ll get it. Regular blood donations will still be taken. Kustka says the more than 80 hospitals supplied by the blood center in Iowa and three other states couldn’t go without a daily fresh supply of whole blood. A donor recently infected with West Nile can pass the disease on to a patient getting their blood transfusion, so Kustka says the center will pass on some donations. Plasma has a “shelf life” of a year, since it’s frozen once it’s collected. Kustka says other parts of the Red Cross system can provide enough plasma to meet local needs. But West Nile or no, it’s a different story for “whole” blood donations. They continue to collect red blood cells and platelets from donors, because the need outweighs West Nile Virus concerns. Kustka says “We could not, as a national system even, support the transfusion needs” if they quit taking whole blood donations. That doesn’t mean there’s no testing, though. The Red Cross has been testing for the West Nile Virus since a test became available with FDA approval, just about exactly two years ago. She encourages people who know they haven’t been exposed and who feel good to sign up to donate, by calling 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or surf to the new website “give blood give life-dot-org.” Midwest Region Blood Services collects blood from donors in 93 counties and serves more than 80 hospitals in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Colorado.
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