January is National Blood Donor Month, first established a half-century ago. And it’s a good thing that declaration stuck, because blood is often in short supply, as it is today, even in our post-pandemic world.
And January is the worst month when it comes to blood shortages. That’s probably because people are busy in November and December, preparing for, and then enjoying, the holidays, with little time to donate blood. Then, what follows those family gatherings and parties with friends are often colds and the flu — and Covid-19 — all of which keep people home, and far away from making much-needed blood donations.
There was an uptick in Covid infections at this time last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s too early to tell how this month will shake out, but because the current strain — kraken — is highly contagious, the CDC predicts that as people attend gatherings inside during the winter months, more people will get sick.
Recent months have also seen outbreaks of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Although it’s more serious among infants and older adults, anyone can get RSV, and doctors are finding that people of all ages do.
Why is donating blood so important? Because every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood or platelets, according to the American Red Cross. And roughly 29,000 units of red blood cells, 5,000 units of platelets and 6,500 units of plasma are needed every day.
Because blood and platelets cannot be manufactured, donors are needed. And often. Add to this the fact that red blood cells expire after 42 days, and platelets must be used within a week.
But don’t get lost in the numbers. Donating even once produces a pint of blood, which the Red Cross counts as three units. That can help save three lives — or one life, of someone who is seriously injured. Car accident victims can require as much as 100 units of blood, and those fighting cancer and blood diseases need even more.
What peopless may not realize is that donating blood can benefit donors beyond just feeling good that they’ve made a difference. It offers a mini-physical, because part of the process includes the taking of vital signs, which might uncover conditions like high blood pressure or even a heart arrhythmia.
Doctors say that donating blood regularly reduces cardiovascular risk factors and is linked to lower blood pressure and minimizing the chance of a heart attack. How? If the donor’s hemoglobin is too high while blood is being drawn, doing so will help reduce the “viscosity” of the blood, which causes blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.
There aren’t many requirements to join the fight to save lives, other than being healthy. According to the New York Blood Center, candidates must be at least 16 years old and not have donated blood within the past 56 days. Those younger than 18 must have a signed permission slip from a parent or guardian. People older than 75 can donate, too, with a letter confirming sound health from a doctor.
And those who have had Covid can donate if they have been symptom-free, and have not tested positive, for two weeks.
Find out how you can donate today by contacting the New York Blood Center, at www.NYBC.org. You can also schedule a donation at (800) 933-2566.
January is when we celebrate those who donate blood and platelets. But giving the gift of life is something all of us can do all year long.