The Safety of Blood


A five-year old girl is riding down the street, on her way to her best
friend\'s house. She doesn\'t have a care in the world and is quietly humming to
herself. Suddenly a car whips around the corner and swerves to avoid the child,
but he looses control and squarely hits the girl, causing the her to fall and
get trapped between the car and her battered bicycle. A main artery in her leg
has been severed and blood fills the gutter of the street. As she gets rushed
to the hospital in the ambulance, a pint of blood is given to her to attempt to
replace some of the life giving fluid that is pouring out of her leg. In the
end she received four pints of blood and made a full recovery.
Although everything turned out all right for the girl, things could have
been much different. What if that blood hadn\'t been there because the nation\'s
blood supply was low? What if the blood that she received had been infected
with a deadly disease such as Syphilis or HIV? These are pressing concerns for
today\'s society. Even though one in every five people will need a blood
transfusion and the risk of contracting a disease such as AIDS is practically
negligible, people are still concerned that the blood that they receive may have
harmful or deadly diseases and that today\'s blood supply is not "safe."
However, "safe" means different things for different people. For some,
safe is an absolute security from any danger. This is an extreme viewpoint,
though, because most people realize that one can never be completely safe.
Another, and more popularly held connotation of "safe," is the probability of
not getting hurt. This is a much more reasonable and plausible definition and
therefor will be used throughout this paper. However, even though the
overwhelming probability is that nothing will go wrong, people still fear that
the nation\'s blood supply is unsafe. They are incorrect in this belief, though,
because much is done to assure that the nation\'s blood supply is, in fact, safe.
One requirement to having a safe blood supply is to have an extensive
reserve, because this allows for the option of discarding any blood that is
potentially unsafe. The assurance of an ample blood supply begins with the
donation process. Most of the people in this country have the capability to
donate blood. However, only 4 percent of the eligible population actually
donates.1 There are few restrictions and the reason why there are blood
shortages is because people don\'t want to donate as opposed to can\'t donate.
For most blood centers, the physical criteria that a donor must meet are as
follows: person must be at least 17 years of age, weigh 110 pounds, and be in
good physical health. However, if so many people can donate blood why do so few
choose to?
Most people are afraid of giving blood. There are many misconceptions
about the process of donating blood and receiving transfusions. For example,
people believe that there is a danger of contracting diseases, especially AIDS,
from the needles used during the process. However, these chances are zero, and
a person has less of a chance of contracting a disease while giving blood than
he has in any other ordinary situation
Actually, people have little to fear about giving blood. Many
precautions are taken to assure that the process is safe for the donor, and the
blood that is received is safe for the recipient. Before the donor even gets
close to the bed or the needle, he first must complete a thorough survey asking
about his past and potentially risky behavior. The survey asks about recent
sexual encounters, focusing on homosexual situations. It also asks about drug
use, body piercing, and prostitution, which are all considered to be "at risk
behaviors." If the donor has participated in such behavior he will not be
allowed to donate until a time when it is safer for everyone involved. If the
donor passes the screening, his blood is collected in a new, plastic bag with a
brand new needle. The needle and everything used during the process, from the
finger lancet to the cotton swabs, are disposed of instead of being reused,
which eliminates the possibility of something not being properly sterilized.
Also, if by chance, the nurse misses the vein and must reinsert a needle, he
will start over with a new needle, to assure sterility. After the blood is
drawn, it is sent to certain laboratories, where it is tested for