Blood Quarantine Puts Pinch on SupplyFeb 3, 2003 | AP
Red Cross officials begged for blood Monday after quarantining a blood supply used in four states while investigators tried to figure out why a mysterious white substance is showing up in blood bags.
The quarantine affects 70 percent of the blood supply in the Red Cross' Tennessee Valley Region, which includes parts of Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri. The 1,200 units represents about a two-day supply.
Some areas said they were dangerously low on red blood and plasma.
"It's a near-critical situation right now," said Dr. Brian Carlson, a Red Cross regional medical director. He said he had only a single unit of O-negative blood Monday afternoon.
The Red Cross in Nashville began examining its supply after white particles showed up last week in 110 units of blood in the Southern Region, which serves Georgia and part of northern Florida. On Sunday, Tennessee Valley officials found similar white particles in 10 units of blood.
An investigation by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has focused on bags manufactured by Baxter International Inc. in Deerfield, Ill.
Preliminary testing indicates the particles are not dangerous or infectious, but investigators remained unsure of the cause. The national Red Cross said it has received no reports of adverse patient reactions.
Baxter spokeswoman Deborah Spak said the bags have been used nationwide for decades with no problems. FDA officials said similar bags were under scrutiny in five other Red Cross regions, but that no other white particles had been found.
The company said its own tests found "the particulate matter is blood-derived in nature, likely a very small fibrin clot containing white blood cells and platelets. These are natural components of blood, which can occur to varying degrees in stored blood under normal conditions."
Mary Malarkey, director of case management for the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said it was too early to characterize the particles. "We have not ruled anything out and continue to investigate," Malarkey said.
In Georgia, some hospitals were postponing elective surgeries Monday as the investigation continued.
In Tennessee, hospitals reported few problems, but some officials were concerned about potential shortages later in the week.
"What's crucial is that donors respond," said Dr. Anne Neff, director of transfusion services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
By early afternoon, about 125 people had showed up to donate blood at the Red Cross headquarters in Nashville. In a typical day, about 75 give blood there.
To alleviate blood shortages, Red Cross officials also shipped blood products to Atlanta and Nashville from other states.
Officials left open the possibility of putting the 1,200 quarantined units back in the supply after testing is complete, but Carlson said that wasn't likely.
"My prediction would be that we end up destroying it," he said, citing the need to err on the side of safety. "We are keeping it right now on reserve, so that if some sort of emergency came in, we've got a process where the hospitals can examine it and decide whether to use it.
"We don't want somebody bleeding to death in the emergency room when we have this product available."