After the terrorist attacks, blood banks discarded supplies at nearly five times the usual rate and gave such mixed messages about the need for blood that donations since have plummeted, an industry report says.
In the three months after Sept. 11, a national sample of 25 blood banks collected 191,000 more units of blood than average, according to the National Blood Data Resource Center. But at least 111,633 -- or 58 percent -- of those units were discarded because they remained unused and were no longer fresh after 42 days.
Experts say the true amount of waste was far greater, because the sampled centers account for a third of U.S. blood collections. Also, the figures do not include blood discarded by hospitals.
The report, penned by a task force of blood centers, is the most thorough measure to date of blood industry shortcomings after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In addition to wasted blood, the report cites increased error rates in donor screening, "donor confusion and disenchantment," and financial losses associated with collection.
Karen Schoos Lipton, chief executive of the American Association of Blood Banks, said the consequences could be severe.
"What we're very concerned about is having (donors) look and say, 'You had plenty of blood and you didn't really need all the blood for the emergency,' " Lipton said.
Much of the industry's concern has been directed at the American Red Cross, which supplies 45 percent of the nation's blood and sought to stockpile blood collected after Sept. 11 for future needs.
For whatever reason, donors are feeling much less generous. Donations plummeted quickly in the wake of the disaster, and by December, blood banks were issuing urgent calls for donors to meet seasonal demands.
In many centers, fewer than 8 percent of the September donors have responded to telephone calls, reminder cards and other pleas from blood centers for repeat donations, according to the report.
"For the most part, the blood community was unable to sustain the momentum created by the Sept. 11 tragedy,' the report said.
The task force also reported that selected centers committed twice as many errors as usual -- in some cases, failing to properly question donors about their health.
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