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Back To Vidyya Public Concerned About The Safety Of Blood Transfusions

Patients Willing To Pay $1000 Per Pint For Blood Perceived To Be Safe

Results from two new surveys announced today by The Coalition for Transfusion Safety, a new consortium dedicated to elevating awareness of the need for safer blood transfusions, uncover significant concerns about the safety of the US blood supply among the general public and health professionals.

According to the survey of 502 adults, conducted by the Survey Research Center of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Inc., 84.3 percent of Americans are concerned about the safety of blood transfusions today. Only eight percent of respondents would elect to receive blood from the current supply, while an overwhelming 83 percent would prefer autologous or directed donations.

Significantly, despite their reported concerns, less than half of the respondents who had experience with blood transfusions said that they were informed by their physicians about the risks of accidental infection. This contrasted with a finding from the professional survey, conducted by the American Opinion Research, which revealed that the majority of physician respondents (nearly 75 percent) felt that they adequately advise patients on the risks of acquiring an infectious disease through a transfusion.

"The disparity in responses between doctors and patients clearly reflects the need for better counseling before administering blood transfusions," commented Frank Strobl, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. "This means that doctors need more information on how to explain the risks involved to patients so that people are clear on what to expect before they receive transfusions."

With current screening methods, the average patient -- who is transfused with five units of blood -- runs a one in 6,800 risk of being infected with either HIV (the AIDS virus), hepatitis C, hepatitis B or human T-lymphotrophic virus, which has been associated with T-cell leukemia and lymphoma. The risk is much higher for people who receive frequent transfusions, such as those with hemophilia or thalassemia, or large quantities of blood, as in organ transplant and trauma situations. Surprisingly, when estimating risks, half of patients surveyed made an accurate assessment of the risk of viral infection from blood transfusion, while only a quarter of physicians estimated the correct range (about one in 10,000).

"Compared to studies published by the Federal Aviation Administration, the risk of receiving an infection from a blood transfusion is 1,000 times higher than the risk of injury on a commercial airline," reported Dr. Strobl. When confronted with this statistic, 93 percent of patient respondents agreed that receiving a blood transfusion (an average of 5 units) should be at least as safe as flying a commercial airline.

Perhaps the most striking finding was that over half of patient respondents would pay $100-$1000 more, on top of the current cost of about $100/unit of blood, to eliminate the risk of receiving infection from transfusion. With newer technologies, safer blood products could become available to patients who want a greater assurance of safety before undergoing transfusions.

To respond to the need for information and education, The Coalition for Transfusion Safety has recently launched a resource Web site (www.transfusion.org) for both the general public and the medical community. The site provides news, scientific abstracts, and events related to both increasing both the volume of the blood supply and the safety of receiving a blood transfusion. With American blood banks projecting to come up short 250,000 units this year, the Coalition encourages Americans to pledge a greater commitment to maintain a robust and high quality supply.

Marking the ten-year anniversary of Ryan White's death, his mother Jeanne, spokeswoman for The Coalition of Transfusion Safety, remains an advocate for blood safety. "Traditionally, the two main issues related to the blood supply have been safety and availability," she said. "Therefore, our mission is two-fold: to educate professionals and the public about the need to remain committed to improving the safety of our country's blood, and to encourage the public to donate blood to maintain an abundant supply." For more information, please visit www.transfusion.org.


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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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