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Surgeries Postponed As Blood Probed, Quarantine Spreads Over Mystery Specks

Feb 4, 2003 | The Los Angeles Times Nonemergency surgeries were postponed, and hospital officials in parts of the South kept a close eye on blood supplies Monday after the American Red Cross expanded a quarantine issued when an unidentified white substance was discovered in bags of donated blood.

Federal health officials worked to identify the particles, which first were spotted in 110 bags of donated blood in Atlanta late last week, prompting the Red Cross to quarantine almost all of its inventory across Georgia and parts of South Carolina.

Officials in Nashville quarantined about two-thirds of the agency's blood supply on Sunday for the Tennessee Valley region covering mid-Tennessee and parts of Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri after a similar substance turned up in 10 bags there. The quarantine applied to blood that was stored in bags manufactured by Baxter Healthcare Corp. of Deerfield, Ill., which also produced the collection bags in which the substance was discovered in Georgia.

Testing by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the particles were not infectious, officials said. The Red Cross said it had received no reports of harm to any patients.


Red Cross officials in Atlanta have said the material may have come from the bags, and on Monday the agency switched to ones made by a different manufacturer. But Baxter officials said their tests showed the material was most likely a naturally occurring component of blood, perhaps tiny fibrin clots containing white cells and platelets. Baxter representatives said it was unclear why the substance variously described as globular or like grains of sugar should suddenly appear so prominently.

The Food and Drug Administration said during a news conference that its own testing was preliminary. "At this point, it's just too soon, and we're not ruling anything in or out," said Dr. Jesse Goodman, director of the FDA's center for biologics evaluation and research.

Mary Malarkey, case-management director in the FDA's compliance office, said the problem appeared limited to the Georgia and Tennessee Valley regions, even though Baxter bags are used across the country. Baxter, a pioneer in making gear for collecting and storing blood for transfusions, makes its bags at a factory in Puerto Rico. An anti-clotting agent is added to the bags before they are delivered to blood-collection agencies.


As the investigation moved forward Monday, the Red Cross in Tennessee extended the hours of planned blood drives and began receiving shipments from other regions to replenish its stockpile, which by morning had dwindled to a one-day's supply. By afternoon the number of donors in Nashville was well above normal, and Red Cross officials expressed hope their inventory could be restored within a week's time.

In Atlanta, doctors continued to postpone surgeries except for emergencies in which blood transfusions were likely to be needed. On Thursday, the Red Cross in Atlanta sent an alert to 140 hospitals in Georgia, plus some that it serves in South Carolina, urging them to hold off on nonemergency use of its blood.

"It has been a bit difficult," said Dr. Steve Taylor, chief medical officer at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, where doctors have canceled more than 40 surgical procedures since Friday. He said the 70 to 80 units of usable blood available was adequate for emergencies, and new supplies were coming in.

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