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Fears triggered by the AIDS epidemic about the safety of the nation's blood supply apparently are causing an unprecedented decline in blood transfusions, scientists said Wednesday.

While transfusions became less frequent, the number of people banking their own blood for future use grew more than tenfold from 1982 to 1987 - part of the "remarkable" changes in blood collection and use that AIDS has spawned, said Douglas Surgenor of the Harvard University-affiliated Center for Blood Research.A study of blood use at 5,600 hospitals between 1982 and 1988 showed transfusions peaked in 1986 and then dropped, indicating safety concerns led doctors to use less blood than in the past, Surgenor said.

The Harvard researcher called the development "on the whole, good, because it shows physicians are really thinking about how much blood they use, and the risks versus the benefits."

While the study did not set out to find reasons for the transfusion decline, the fact that the changes coincided with the spread of the AIDS epidemic shows concern about the deadly disease was primarily responsible, Surgenor said.

The transfusion downturn was a striking reversal of the nationwide trend between 1971 and 1980. Government surveys showed transfusions of blood and blood components doubled during those years, Surgenor and colleagues said in The New England Journal of Medicine.

"Transfusions of whole blood and red cells reached a peak of 12.2 million units in 1986, then declined to 11.6 million units in 1987 and continued to decline in 1988," the study reported.