As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to escalate, experts are warning of a dire shortage of blood as donors stay home and blood drives across the country are canceled.
People should continue to donate blood while taking appropriate precautions and following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about social distancing and hand washing, said Bruce Spiess, MD, FAHA, Professor of Anesthesiology and Associate Chair of Research in the Department of Anesthesiology.
People cannot contract the virus from donating blood; the risk would come from potentially coming into contact with people who have been exposed.
“It’s an individual decision,” said Dr. Spiess, a national expert in blood management who runs the Patient Blood Management program at UF Health. “We have a national blood shortage and it helps for everyone to donate blood. It will only get worse if everyone avoids donating.”
Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, an anesthesiologist, also urged everyone to consider donating blood.
According to the American Red Cross, about 7,000 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled across the United States since March 1, resulting in more than 200,000 fewer blood donations, with cancellations only increasing.
The crisis also highlights the need for action to expand the availability of oxygen therapeutics, or blood substitutes, such as Hemopure, Dr. Spiess said.
UF Health is the only institution in the country that has a compassionate-use license from the FDA for the use of Hemopure, a bovine hemoglobin product that works as a “bridge” by delivering oxygen while the body regenerates its own blood. The license means it can be used when there are no other options available in patients who qualify.
Dr. Spiess is also urging the FDA to take action on the potential to use PFCs for acute respiratory distress syndrome and respiratory failure. PFCs carry 60 times the amount of oxygen that human blood carries, and fat emulsions of PFCs have been used in cases of oxygen delivery failure. Moreover, pure PFC can be used as a mist to coat the inside of the lungs, leading to enhanced lung function.