Concerns about Zika virus and blood donation

February 4, 2016 at 1:45 pm

zika photo

We are seeing many stories in the media about tropical viruses, particularly the Zika virus. 

Zika virus infection is spreading rapidly in the Western Hemisphere outside the U.S. and Canada. Zika virus infection is mild or has no symptoms in most people.

Following the 2015 outbreak in Brazil, there is concern that Zika is causing serious brain injury to infants whose mothers have been infected during pregnancy, and also causing increased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome — a temporary but serious disorder causing paralysis.

Since many Americans travel to tropical regions now infected, especially this time of year, there is a possibility that someone could become infected without knowing it. In most cases the virus is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. A few cases of person-to-person transmission have been reported.

There is concern that Zika virus can be transmitted by blood; Zika virus can be present in the blood of an infected person who has no symptoms of illness. Therefore, we are taking steps to ensure the safety of our blood supply.

Is there risk to the Northwest’s blood supply from the Zika virus?

We are following all FDA, CDC, and AABB recommendations to keep our blood supply safe from Zika and other viruses.

A number of precautionary measures are in place:

  • CDC travel advisory: The CDC recommends that women with a recognized or unrecognized pregnancy should avoid travel to areas experiencing tropical virus outbreaks.
  • Travel to malarial areas already defers donors for one year: People who have traveled to mosquito-infested areas in the tropics where malaria is known to be a problem are already deferred from giving blood for one year.  Many of those areas are the same ones where Zika virus has been found.
  • A 28-day “self-deferral” for people returning from tropical areas where Zika is present: We ask that anyone who has traveled to countries at higher risk of Zika virus infection in the Western Hemisphere to not donate blood for 28 days after returning to the U.S.
  • Donors who experience symptoms after donation: Donors who recently traveled to tropical areas in the Western Hemisphere who do not self-defer will be asked to call us if they experience unexplained illness or symptoms associated with viral infection for up to 14 days after donation. If they do, any potentially infected units will be immediately quarantined and recalled.

What’s the impact of these measures on the Northwest’s blood supply?

Deferring people who have recently traveled to tropical areas in the Northern Hemisphere will result in an estimated 2.25% reduction in our eligible donors – especially this time of year, when travel to tropical areas is more common.

To close this gap means we’ll have to rely more on new donors and people who have not traveled to tropical areas.

Tips to pass the iron test (hematocrit)

December 9, 2013 at 10:43 am

The finger prick to test iron levels, called a hematocrit (hematocrit is the percentage of red blood cells in your blood), is a necessary evil: we need to make sure that you have enough iron in your blood to safely take a pint of it.

There are few things more disappointing for blood donors then making time to give and then not being able to do so when they don’t pass the hematocrit, particularly during the holiday season when the blood supply gets low.

Sophie, a phlebotomist at our First Hill location in Seattle, has the following tips to ensure that you can keep saving lives every 56 days.

Increase your circulation

mittensLow blood circulation in the hand can cause the hematocrit to give an artificially low reading, even if your iron levels are actually within the acceptable range. Less blood flow = lower readings. This is a problem we see more of when it’s chilly outside.

To improve circulation, keep your hands warm when arriving to their blood center or mobile donation site and run your hands under warm water after filling out the questionnaire.

Add iron-rich foods to your diet

spinachWhile running your finger under warm water increases blood flow, increasing your circulation does nothing to help you pass the test if you just don’t have the iron to begin with; make sure that you keep your iron levels within the acceptable range. Even longtime donors may come in to find that suddenly their iron levels aren’t high enough; this happens to both men and women, and is fairly common: on an average day, approximately one out of ten donors is deferred because of a low iron count.

Increase your consumption of iron rich foods, such as red meat and dark leafy greens, starting up to a week prior to donating. You can also talk to your doctor about taking an iron supplement; we do not recommend adding this to your diet without consulting a physician first.

A low iron count also doesn’t mean that you are anemic. It’s only if you are at or below 31.5 hematocrit that we recommend that you talk to your doctor — anywhere in the 31.8 – 37.2 hematocrit range is normal but just doesn’t meet our standards.

Come back again

clock6Iron fluctuates on a daily basis. Even if your iron levels are too low to meet our standards on a given donation, you might be okay for the next one. You can donate three days after being deferred for low iron, so come back as soon as you are eligible again.



How to Prepare for Blood Donation: Practical Advice from Facebook Followers

July 28, 2010 at 4:30 pm

The Saisslins know how to prepare.

On our Facebook Page, recently we asked followers, “Blood Heroes: What advice would you give potential donors about how to prepare for a successful first blood donation?” We received thirty-two responses from experienced donors eager to share their tips and tricks. This post showcases their best practical advice on how to prepare your body for blood donation.

Thank you to all the Blood Heroes who shared their wisdom!


Jan: My advice is 1) Drink a lot of water prior to donation. It helps the phlebotomist find a suitable vein. 2) Eat iron rich food 3-5 days leading up to the donation. 3) Tell the PSBC staff this is the first time donating and don’t be afraid to ask questions and indicate which arm you prefer they use for the donation.

Sean: Get a good night’s sleep before donating.

Deb: Be sure you’re well hydrated so they can find a good vein. Wear a short-sleeved shirt, too.

Bill: Shave your arm where they are going to put that ridiculous sticky tape on it!

Emily: If you have long hair, don’t put it up in a ponytail or a bun (it hurts when you lay down).

Bill: Ladies (heck … and men) might be better off wearing pants that day rather than a skirt.

Naomi: If you work out regularly, plan your workout schedule so that you will have a good 24 hours of rest after the donation.

Kirsten: Have a solid meal and fluids ahead of time, and relax. Plus there are cookies when you’re done!

Venice: If you’re a vegetarian, eat tons of food that is high in iron.

Michael: Spinach is a very good source of iron. What I do is put spinach instead of lettuce in my sandwiches.

Greg: Once you’re done, they treat you to juice, coffee and cookies. Go every 56 days because they always need the blood!

To see more practical advice about donation or to find answers to commonly asked questions, visit this page on our Website. You can also call 1-800-398-7888.  The next blog post will have the best advice on how to motivate your mind and how to overcome concerns about donation.

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