Saturday, March 15, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The Las Vegas Valley’s blood bank has seen donations drop steeply since the hepatitis scare triggered by dangerous medical practices at a local clinic.
Donations at United Blood Services’ five fixed sites have dropped 25 percent since early March, when 40,000 former Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada patients were advised to undergo tests for potentially fatal viruses hepatitis B and C and HIV.
The Endoscopy Center’s reuse of syringes and single-dose vials put patients at risk of contracting those viruses.
Amy Hutch, the blood bank’s donor recruitment director, said Friday that only about 75 individuals have been giving blood daily at its facilities, down from the usual 100 a day.
However, there has been no drop-off through the blood bank’s mobile units at schools, businesses and churches, which combined continue to see 100 donors daily.
“It could be because ... the students tend not to be the type of patients who would have had a colonoscopy or endoscopy procedure,” Hutch said.
While reiterating that donating blood is safe, she noted that many adult callers have expressed concerns prompted by the hepatitis story’s prominence in the news.
“We have seen some hesitation in donations in the past two weeks because people are hesitant of any needle contact,” Hutch said. “We have reinforced that everything we use involves a single-use needle that is then disposed (of).”
Some past donors also have called, worried that they may have been contaminated when they gave blood. They have been assured otherwise.
“They would not have been infected by us,” Hutch said.
Although Hutch said she knew of no blood shortages so far at hospitals, United Blood Service’s own reserve stock of O negative blood is running short. O negative blood is particularly important because it is the universal donor type.
Ashlee Seymour, spokeswoman for Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, said the same was true at her hospital, but stressed that the recent decline has not yet reached a dangerous level.
“We have not had an issue with that yet,” Seymour said. “It’s just that we haven’t had our order for O negative filled.”
Dr. Weldon Havins, president of the Clark County Medical Society, said he has not heard any concerns over blood supplies since it was disclosed late last month that six former Endoscopy Center patients had contracted hepatitis C.
In addition to its five Southern Nevada centers, United Blood Services can dispatch as many as eight mobile collection teams to other locations in the region.
Hutch couldn’t say when the donation drop-off, assuming it continues, could affect hospitals.
Much depends on how long the hepatitis case remains in the headlines, she said. While some of the decline in donations may be attributable to allergy season, Hutch said most of it is because of the Endoscopy Center case.
“I hope the Endoscopy Center story will run its cycle,” she said.
To give blood, donors must be at least 17, weigh at least 110 pounds and be healthy. They cannot be taking antibiotics and cannot have donated blood for at least the past eight weeks, or 16 weeks in the case of double red cell donors.
Those who may not donate include individuals with cold or flu symptoms and those who previously used syringes for nonprescription drugs, contracted hepatitis after age 11, had a positive hepatitis B or C test or are at risk of catching or spreading the AIDS virus. Patients of the Endoscopy Center over the past year have been added to that list, Hutch said.
All donated blood is screened for hepatitis, HIV, syphilis and other diseases. United Blood’s laboratory usually can determine within 24 hours whether the blood is tainted.