The Red Cross: A Safe Source of Blood?

The American Red Cross collects and gives out about 43 percent of the blood given to medical patients in this country, which is why it may be unnerving to learn that the organization has not been following federal quality-control standards.

From the article:

The F.D.A. found shortcomings in the way the Red Cross screens donors for possible exposure to infectious diseases, failures to swab arms properly before inserting needles, failures to test for syphilis and failures to discard potentially risky blood, among other deficiencies.

There is no evidence of actual harm resulting from the Red Cross’s failure to abide by federal standards. However, the reason for this lack of evidence is partly because Red Cross has failed to investigate potential harm. If nobody looks for evidence of harm, then naturally it will not be found.

Again, from the article (which should be read in its entirety):

All told, the Red Cross failed to investigate more than 130 cases of suspected post-transfusion hepatitis between 2000 and mid-2002.

Often the problem is bureaucratic. Just this week, the F.D.A. chided the Red Cross for distributing more than 200 blood products that the organization itself had identified as problematic but failed to intercept before distribution. Other times the failure is deliberate. A blood facility in Philadelphia, with approval from a senior national executive, decided not to recall some 600 units of blood that had been collected using improper methods.

What can a patient do to limit the possibility of receiving improper blood? Very little. In an emergency situation, there may not be any time to inquire closely into the origins of a blood donation. However, the Red Cross is taking steps to ameliorate its problems by re-vamping its blood donation services and creating a centralized database to track the blood.

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