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January is National Blood Donor Month

I wrote a report for biology class in eighth grade about blood, based on the book Blood: The River of Life. Maybe it influenced my career choice - the subject continues to fascinate me. How many people know that the phrase "I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole" stems from an ancient taboo about menstruation? When women were menstruating, it was forbidden to touch or even look at them. They were isolated in huts and meat was delivered to them via a ten foot pole. Blood is the very substance of life, and throughout human history we have both revered and feared it. Dr. James Blundell, an obstetrician from London, performed the first human to human blood transfusion in 1818 to treat a woman with post partum hemorrhage. Transfusion medicine has grown over the past 200 years into a subspecialty of medicine.

Today, blood transfusion is something we almost take for granted, but there is actually quite a bit of controversy surrounding this health matter. US blood banks no longer accept donors who have spent time in Britain or Europe in an attempt to prevent transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the human form of "mad cow disease." The FDA continues to recommend that any males who report any homosexual activity be banned from making donations. Women with heavy periods are often anemic and people with low hemoglobin levels are not accepted as blood donors. Only people over the age of 17 and weighing more than 110 lbs. are eligible to donate blood. Other requirements for donors change frequently and the American Red Cross has up-to-date information about who is eligible to give blood and this organization reminds us that January is Volunteer Blood Donor Month. In 1997 World Health Organization (WHO) introduced proposals for unpaid, voluntary blood donation policies to be adopted internationally, and today, most blood is donated by volunteers.

AABB (which is not an acronym for anything) asks us to start out the year remembering the importance of donating blood. With the busy rush of the holidays, the supply of blood to save lives due to trauma or illness gets depleted. AABB states that one pint of donated blood can save three lives! AABB is seeking to standardize procedures for transfusion medicine in blood banks around the world. If you are anticipating surgery, you may want to consider autologous blood donation, or replacement blood donation, which is donating blood to yourself. There are professional donors who get paid for blood donations. As things stand now, blood donation is on the honor system; it is up to the donor to disclose their health history honestly. China’s Ministry of Health has adopted an aggressive policy to boost its supply of safe blood, and reports increasing its donated blood from 22% in 1978 to over 85% today.

If you don't know where to go to donate, AABB's website provides a nifty locator helper if you click this link.

Image courtesy of lordog.
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