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4 things to know about the blood shortage in Utah and the U.S. and how you can help

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Health systems and hospitals in Utah have been sounding the alarm this summer. There is currently a critical blood shortage and the need for blood donations across the nation is at an all-time high, including here in Utah.

The American Red Cross of Utah attributes the need to rising accidents and trauma cases as summer is underway, organ transplants and surgeries and medical procedures that have depleted the nation’s blood inventory.

Here are four things to know about the current blood shortage.

Why is there a shortage?

Twenty to 40% of trauma deaths that occur after hospital admission involve massive hemorrhaging, and doctors need a secure blood supply to help fight those odds. To save a life in these circumstances, hospitals may need hundreds of blood products depending on the severity of the trauma.

Also, the number of trauma cases go up during the summer as more people are outdoors and risk of serious injuries increases.

During the last three months, the Red Cross has distributed more than 75,000 blood products than expected to meet needs, significantly decreasing the national blood supply.

“We’re asking that Utahns step up and donate during this critical time. It’s vital that we have enough blood to treat patients who are undergoing surgeries and procedures, as well as trauma patients who are brought in from the scene of an accident who are fighting for their lives,” said Dr. Sarah Ilstrup, M.D., clinical pathology medical director for Intermountain Healthcare.

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How did we get here?

Blood is perishable and cannot be stockpiled. It has a shelf life of about 42 days, so it must constantly be replenished by generous blood donors. The blood supply is used for trauma patients, surgeries, organ transplants, and other medical procedures.

In addition to an unusually high number of trauma cases, hospitals across the country are seeing people who put off surgeries or deferred care during the COVID pandemic. Now, some people are undergoing procedures for their health issues and more advanced disease progression, requiring increased blood transfusions.

What type of blood is needed?

The easy answer is every type of blood is needed.

Type O is the most in-demand blood type and often the first to be depleted from hospital shelves during a shortage. Type O-negative is the universal blood type and what emergency room personnel reach for when there is no time to determine the blood type of patients in the most serious situations.

Type O-positive is the most common blood type and can be transfused to Rh-positive patients of any blood type.

How to donate

The American Red Cross of Utah has reported donor turnout appears to be particularly lower than normal this summer, as Americans get their COVID-19 vaccine and resume summer travels and activities after more than a year of quarantining and limited activity due to the pandemic.

Healthy individuals are needed to donate now and throughout the summer to help patients counting on lifesaving blood.

To schedule an appointment, go to: RedCrossBlood.org or utahblood.org.