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Blood Stocks Low at Critical Time

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Is it SARS, West Nile virus, too much rain, post-war weariness or something else?

Blood collection officials have been asking that question the past two months as donations of the lifesaving red stuff plummeted to record seasonal lows.

"There's certainly something in the public that we can't put our finger on," said Chris Hrouda, chief executive officer for the American Red Cross Southern Region. "We saw a noticeable decline the last week of April, and it's continued. That means we're already crippled going into summer when donations slow down considerably."

A low inventory going into the Fourth of July weekend is nerve-racking as emergency rooms brace for an inevitable increase of accidents and injuries, Hrouda said.

For the national holiday, the Atlanta Braves are pitching in to boost blood donorship. Through Saturday, Braves T-shirts and drawings for free game tickets are available at metro-area mall blood drives.

Blood type O negative, considered "universal," is in greatest demand. It can be transfused to about 85 percent of the population.

About 1,200 donors are needed every day in order to supply about 140 hospitals throughout Georgia with whole blood and plasma.

But on some days, only half that amount has been tallied at blood collection centers and mobile blood drives during early spring, said Cammie Barnes, Red Cross spokeswoman.

LifeSouth, another blood collection agency, which supplies about one-quarter of metro Atlanta's hospitals, is also seeing low turnout.

Needs are being met by importing blood from other regions, Hrouda said, but that won't continue because blood shortages are reported across the country.

"The scare of SARS may be part of it," Hrouda said. "And there's a lot more discussion about West Nile virus. But people need to know there's no risk of getting SARS, or West Nile, or HIV or hepatitis or any other infectious disease whatsoever from donating blood."

SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, is a new disease characterized by pneumonia that rapidly spread via global travelers.

West Nile virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, first appeared in the United States four years ago.

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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