By Martha P. Ford, DO
Most people don’t give much thought to donating blood. It’s only when they, or someone they love, need it that they realize how important a plentiful supply is.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left blood banks with dangerously low supplies. The reason, in part, has to do with the cancellation of workplace donation programs as people started working from home because of the pandemic.
Another reason is the false perception that donating blood puts you at greater risk for contracting COVID-19. Blood donation sites follow strict guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by wearing gloves, wiping down surfaces after each donation, and using sterile needles and other collection equipment. Staff also:
- check the temperature of all people entering the building or mobile unit.
- require everyone on site to wear a mask.
- provide hand sanitizer for anyone entering the building and throughout the center or mobile unit.
- enforce social distancing.
Who can donate
Some people hesitate to donate because they think they are too old or young, or are on medications that would disqualify them. Others believe that an illness they have or have had in the past will prevent them from donating. General rules about who may or may not donate have changed over time and can differ from state to state. The following rules refer to whole blood donation. People can donate whole blood if they:
- are at least 17 years old (there is no older adult cut-off age).
- are in good health and feel well.
- weigh at least 110 lbs.
People taking daily medication, such as those for high blood pressure and antidepressants, are usually able to donate.
People taking other medications may need to wait a specific amount of time to donate, ranging from a few days to more than a year after they finish the course of medication.
Those taking blood thinners and HIV antiretroviral therapy are not eligible to donate.
Potential donors can find more information about medications, waiting times and other medication-related questions at their local blood donation center or by visiting redcrossblood.org.
Blood vs. plasma donation
Whole blood is made up of red and white blood cells and platelets, all suspended in plasma. It has many uses and is what most people are talking about when they say they are donating blood.
Donating whole blood takes less than an hour and can be done every 56 days. The blood can be stored for 21 to 35 days.
Other types of donations include separating out parts of whole blood – platelets, plasma or red blood cells – and returning the rest of the blood to your body. Different types of donations take different lengths of time, usually from one to two hours. Though information about other kinds of blood donations can be found at the Red Cross website, I want to mention plasma donation by people who have recovered from COVID-19.
Donating plasma after recovering from COVID-19 provides what is called convalescent plasma. Convalescent plasma has antibodies from COVID-19 that may help patients who are very sick with the disease get better. It can also help them recover more quickly. The treatment is FDA approved and each donation can help up to three patients. People who may donate must be completely symptom free for at least 14 days before donating their plasma. They can give up to two times a week.
If you are a regular blood donor, thank you. If you can donate and have not yet done so, please think about doing it. Donated blood saves lives.
Martha P. Ford, DO received her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She completed her family practice residency and rotating internship at Florida Hospital Carrollwood in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Ford practices at WellMed at New Tampa in Tampa, Florida.