Study highlights impact of pandemic on available blood supply

Data examined by a German research team has shown that the supply and demand for blood transfusions during a pandemic situation could cause a severe depletion in available transfusion units.

The team compared supply and demand data against a computer simulation of an influenza pandemic, which showed that a deficit of as much as 96,000 red blood cell transfusions would be created in Germany alone in the face of a pandemic. The study, published in the journal TRANSFUSION, said the deficit could potentially have fatal outcomes.

"The pandemic model showed that after five to six weeks of a severe pandemic, there would be 220,000 fewer units than the normal supply, a reduction of 40-50 percent," lead researcher Dr. Christel Kamp, of the Paul-Ehrlich Institute in Germany said. "If we assume that 70 percent of required transfusion units are urgent and cannot wait, this could lead to approximately 100,000 units being denied to people who need them."

Red blood cell transfusion units, which cannot by synthetically produced or kept in stock for more than six weeks, are a precious resource during critical situations, such as those created by a biological attack that creates a pandemic. Availability of these RBC units is entirely dependent on the health of donors and would be impacted by a pandemic.

The team's study also highlighted other issues during a pandemic that could affect the supply of RBC units, including blood collection staff staying home due to illness.

The study also highlighted the need to conduct smaller and more frequent blood donor collection activities at fixed sites or mobile locations to aid in reducing the risk of spreading a pandemic disease while still maintaining adequate blood inventories.