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Red Cross fears a blood shortage

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When the Olympics come to Utah, Judy Christensen hopes that area hospitals will be fully stocked with donated blood.

But staffers at the American Red Cross Utah Blood Services Division, where she's the spokeswoman, fear that a combination of winter weather and interest in the Games will glue people to their television sets, instead of sending them out to give blood.

Already, since the holidays, Utah's blood inventory has declined, though Utah's not as hard-hit as some parts of the country, she said. The need is always greatest for O-negative blood, the so-called "universal donor."

Having less blood on hand at this time of year is not unusual, because donations typically drop during and immediately after the holidays. But this year, it's more important to fill the blood bank because thousands of people will be arriving for the Olympics. And the need for blood may go up then. That's something that's hard to predict.

"We anticipate a problem during the Olympics," Christensen said. "It's always a tough time after the holidays. But what we are trying to do is build our supply now and fully stock our hospitals with everything they can store. We want to be prepared."

Red blood cells are good for 42 days, so blood donated today would still be good during the Olympic Games, should it be needed.

Because the Olympics are expected to create traffic snarls, the blood bank is also working on a plan to deliver blood during the off-hours.

"We have contingency plans to make sure we have enough blood during the Olympics," Christensen said. "But there will be none left over for elsewhere."

The Utah division sometimes supplies blood to hospitals in neighboring states when they run short.

E-MAIL: lois@desnews.com