US blood donations are low. Here's how to give blood during omicron
The American Red Cross is urging healthy Americans to donate amid a major blood shortage.
Mercey LivingstonCNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
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The American Red Cross is urging healthy Americans to donate blood during the "worst blood shortage in over a decade," due in large part to the ongoing pandemic and most recently the omicron variant surge. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Red Cross has seen a 10% decline in the number of people donating blood, in part because of continued blood drive cancellations and staffing limitations -- impacting people who need blood transfusions and medical procedures. But if you are healthy, you can still give blood now and help save lives.
The best way to find a place to give blood is to contact your local blood bank or the American Red Cross. According to the American Red Cross website, they are putting in extra safety precautions to protect people at this time, but donating blood will not put you at further risk to contract COVID-19. If you have any possible symptoms of the coronavirus such as a cough or cold, you should not try to donate. Before you can donate, you will be screened to make sure you are healthy and do not have a fever.
According to the American Red Cross, blood donations save the lives of children and adults struggling with cancer, traumatic accidents, blood disorders and other health issues every day. And the need for blood donations is extremely high -- the organization estimates that someone is in need of a blood transfusion every two seconds in the US. And just a single donation can help save up to three people's lives.
Keep reading for more information on how to donate blood, find out if you are eligible to give, and what you can expect in the process.
Who can donate blood?
In general, most healthy adults can give blood, but there are some requirements that you must meet to donate. Typically this means you have to be at least 17 years old, in good health and feel well at the time of donation and weigh at least 110 pounds. (The weight requirement can change slightly based on your height, age, and if you are male or female.)
Even though every blood type is needed for donation, some blood types are more in-demand than others. O-negative blood is one of the most needed types since it can be transfused to anyone with any blood type. O-positive is also in demand, according to the Red Cross. Type AB plasma blood can also be transfused to people with all other blood types.
Can I donate blood if I got the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. If you've gotten your COVID-19 vaccine, you should bring your vaccine card when you go to donate blood, or at least be aware of which vaccine you received and when. In most cases, you don't have to wait to donate blood after getting a vaccine or a booster shot. According to the Red Cross:
There is no deferral time for eligible blood donors who are vaccinated with an inactivated or RNA-based COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca, Janssen/J&J, Moderna, Novavax or Pfizer.
Eligible blood donors who received a live attenuated COVID-19 vaccine or do not know what type of COVID-19 vaccine they received must wait two weeks before giving blood.
What can disqualify you from giving blood?
Some chronic health conditions and medications can interfere with your eligibility to donate, which you can read more about in detail here.
Some conditions and factors that can disqualify you include but are not limited to:
If you are taking an antibiotic for an infection.
If you are taking Accutane.
If you are taking blood thinners, such as Coumadin.
If you are feeling ill, especially if you have a fever.
If you are pregnant.
If you have or suspect you're at risk for developing HIV/AIDS -- this includes that men who've had sexual contact with men in the last three months. The FDA in 2020 shortened the deferral period from 12 months to three.
If you've gotten a tattoo within the last three months -- in most states you can donate blood anytime after getting tattooed at a state-regulated tattoo studio. The FDA also shortened the deferral period from 12 months to three.
If you are currently unable to give blood, you can still become involved by volunteering at a blood drive or local blood bank, or donating money to help sponsor a drive.
If you have any eligibility questions, you can call the Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767.
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How to find a place to donate
If you'd like to donate blood, you can begin by searching online for blood drives in your area. The American Red Cross has a database of blood drives in the US that you can check. There are also a few blood donation apps that can help you find a place to donate. Blood drives are also often held at local community organizations, hospitals and churches, although some drives have been canceled during the pandemic.
Be sure to call ahead to any local blood bank where you plan to donate to get any instructions from them on how to prepare for your visit, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has changed how many medical offices handle visitors.
What you can expect during the donation process
Most blood drives and blood banks will set certain hours for taking donations and will request that you make an appointment in advance. However, walk-ins are usually welcome, so if you see an open donation center or blood drive and show up without an appointment, most centers will not turn you away.
Once you decide to donate blood and have scheduled an appointment with a donation center, you can plan to stay for about an hour. The blood donation procedure does not take that long, but you will have to answer some questions about your health history and fill out some paperwork before you begin. You will also undergo a finger-prick test to check your iron levels. If they are low, you won't be able to donate that day.
If you're afraid of needles and don't like to see blood, don't worry. Know that the needle stick only lasts a second, and you don't have to look while the blood is being drawn. While the blood donation process is quite simple and quick, here are some more tips to make the process more comfortable.
Stay warm: Keeping your body warm makes it easier to see the veins in your arms (which reduces the chance you'll have to be stuck with a needle more than once).
Hydrate: Be sure to drink plenty of water and fluids before you give blood. Staying hydrated makes donating blood easier since you'll feel better and your veins will look plumper (making it easier for the phlebotomist to see them).
What to expect after you give blood
Right after you give blood, you'll be encouraged to sit down and have a snack. It's important to rest for at least 10 minutes while your body recovers from giving blood. The snack will help stabilize your blood sugar, and you should also drink extra fluids to hydrate and help you recover.
You should be able to resume your normal activities afterward, but if you feel a bit weak or faint, you'll need to sit and rest until you feel able to leave. The American Red Cross also encourages blood donors to avoid vigorous activity, exercise and alcohol for 24 hours after giving blood.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.