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If they haven't already done so, those Utahns able to donate blood ought to make it a regular habit in 1994. Blood supplies are perishable, there's hardly ever too much on hand, and any change in circumstances can quickly deteriorate into life-threatening shortages.

That is a lesson that many parts of the United States are learning right now. A combination of the holiday season, snowstorms and widespread flu have dramatically reduced the number of donors in some cities and regions across the nation.As a result, blood supplies in dozens of places are lower than they have been for years. The American Red Cross says the shortage is worse than at any time in the organization's history. The Red Cross national inventory - usually a three-day supply - fell this week to a single day.

Some hospital blood banks were down to their last units. In Maine, one hospital actually ran out for a few hours. Surgeons there are considering canceling elective surgery during the next few weeks. Hospital officials are afraid of cases involving heavy bleeding - situations they may not be able to handle.

Among those places reporting emergency shortages are Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia. Others also hard hit are Buffalo, N.Y.; Birmingham and Mobile, Ala.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Dedham, Mass.; Flint and Lansing, Mich.; Little Rock, Ark.; San Bernardino and Fresno, Calif., and Peoria, Ill.

The Intermountain Health Care Blood Bank, which supplies most of the blood used for transfusions throughout Utah, is not experiencing a shortage at the moment, but officials acknowledge that the situation can change from day to day. They would like to have a bigger backlog, especially of certain O-types of blood.

The best insurance against blood shortages is a small army of regular donors. If some are stricken by ill health or otherwise delayed in donating, the loss is less drastic than in places where there are chronic shortfalls.

Utahns should visit a hospital blood bank or donate at every opportunity when a bloodmobile visits a business, civic sites, churches and other settings. It's a great way to be a life-saver for other people.