[Services] Blood not so simple

Hepatitis C scare affecting donations at blood banks valleywide

Joshua Longobardy

One of the symptoms of the mass panic that seized the public following the hepatitis C outbreak in February, according to United Blood Services Donor Recruitment Director Amy Hutch, was an unambiguous decline in blood donations throughout the Las Vegas Valley.

This past March, fixed UBS location sites experienced a 21 percent drop in donors—from 3,000 in March 2007 to 2,367 last month.

“It seemed that people feared—or, at least, were concerned—about any type of medical procedure,” says Hutch. And that, of course, was a direct consequence of the calamity that occurred at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, in which faulty syringe practices led to at least seven identified cases of hepatitis C.

Never before, Hutch says, has a single event in Southern Nevada triggered such a decline.

What salvaged the blood supply in Las Vegas, however, and what might very well have saved lives, was the stability in donations at UBS’ mobile sites—the vans and buses that visit high schools, churches and other institutions.

For this reason, says Hutch, UBS managed to still meet all hospital orders last month, and nobody had to suffer from a blood shortage. In fact, it was high school donors who came to the rescue, constituting what Hutch calls a “very impressive” 14 percent of March’s overall donations. That number, which includes tallies from mobile sites, was 6,043—just 10 percent down from the same overall total in March 2007.

At any rate, with a great exhale of relief, Hutch says that it appears people are coming back. Now that deviant medical centers have been closed, now that hepatitis C isn’t headlining the news every day and, above all, now that UBS has gotten the word out (via e-mails, the press and its website) that giving blood is completely safe, she is noticing an upward movement in donations.

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