Murphy's Law: Blood Bank Blues

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June 4, 2007: Ever since blood banks were invented during World War II, blood donors were easy to find within the military. After all, the military only allowed the healthy to join, and the overwhelming majority were men. Women often cannot donate because of a low red blood cell count. But in the last few decades, the situation has changed, much for the worse. The military can no longer get sufficient blood donations from its own troops.

The initial obstacles were simply the ability to detect more blood borne diseases. Potential donors began to see a longer list of diseases or medical conditions that barred them from giving blood. Even the military suffered from this, because anyone who got a tattoo or body piercing, could not donate for twelve months. When Mad Cow disease was discovered in the 1980s, it resulted in any Americans, who had lived in Europe for six months or more between 1980 and 1996, becoming permanently ineligible to donate blood. That made some twenty percent of U.S. military personnel ineligible, although that is decreasing as many Americans, who served in Europe in that period, retire.

The big hit came from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of the large number of blood borne diseases in those regions, American troops cannot donate blood for twelve months after they return from those areas (providing time for any little known maladies to manifest themselves). With many troops having only a one year break before going back to Iraq or Afghanistan, most soldiers and marines won't be able to give blood until those wars are over. Any area that has a lot of malaria, also bars donations for twelve months after troops return from them. This hits troops deployed to Africa and other parts of the Middle East.

The casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan are so low, compared to earlier wars, that donations from the military should be able to cover blood needs. But because of the screening restrictions, and the number of troops serving in high risk (to blood supplies) areas, the military has to look elsewhere to obtain sufficient blood for its casualties.

 


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