Too Much Blood: Health Experts Confront The Hidden Hazards Of Blood Transfusions

logo-edmonton-journal-300x150It is euphemistically known as “wrong blood in tube”: a transfusion error that ends with a patient receiving blood meant for someone else. Sometimes that patient is lucky and still gets his or her own blood type. The error isn’t even caught.

In the worst cases, however, “mismatches” can kill by causing a rapid and catastrophic reaction in which the person’s body starts destroying the red blood cells almost immediately after infusion.

Death from an incompatible blood transfusion is rare in Canada, but it happens. And every one is entirely preventable.

New Canadian research is raising fresh concerns over the sheer magnitude of the frequency and types of transfusion errors that are occurring, from the moment blood is ordered until the clamp on the IV is opened to start the transfusion.

Experts say that while vast amounts of money have been spent on making blood safer from infectious diseases since the tainted-blood tragedy of the 1980s, too little has been done to make the actual transfusion of blood safer.

The Public Health Agency of Canada runs a surveillance system for transfusion injuries. The last public report the agency issued was for 2004-2005.

That year, of the more than two million transfusions documented, 762 “adverse events” were reported, including 11 deaths. Seventeen cases of incompatible transfusions were documented; most involved red blood cells. More than one-third of them were life-threatening.

The top three reported injuries were fluid overload, where patients are given more blood than their bodies can handle, causing swelling throughout the body or difficulty breathing; severe allergic reactions; and serious lung injuries that can cause respiratory distress. Overall in 2005, the risk of an adverse event was one in every 3,270 units transfused.

The full article is located at Edmonton Journal

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