Friday, February 28, 2003

Blogging for Blood
(update: See correction at end of post)

InstaPundit posted some thoughts on blood donation. I used to give 4 times a year religiously; now I'm down to 2-3. For one thing I'd give at work and the Red Cross doesn't schedule bloodmobiles visits with the same regularity they used to. Another thing is that it takes more out of me now than it used to. Finally, I find the questions to be excessively intrusive.

InstaPundit wonders if mad cow disease is more pervasive than he realizes. I've never looked up statistics, but you don't have people talking about a plague (of mad cow disease) like you had people talking about AIDS even 20 years ago. So I don't think (and this is only speculation) that mad cow disease is all that pervasive.

One possibility would be that there's some combination between the difficulty in detecting the disease in the blood and the terrible nature of the disease; so the Red Cross is doing all it can to minimize its spread. There's a more cynical way of looking at the decision to make people who've spent more than 1.5 years in England (or something like that) permanently ineligible to donate blood in this country. But I'm not going to go there right now.

About twelve years ago I made it to the permanently ineligible list. Twice when I donated, I'd gotten readings that my HLA levels were elevated. HLA is a protein (I think) and if its level is high it may indicate hepatitis. There are other reasons why HLA levels might be elevated; still, at the time there was a rule that anyone who got two such elevated reading, even on non-consecutive donations, was declared ineligible. I kept up with the Red Cross and eventually they informed me that they were changing their policy on elevated HLA levels. (Right now I don't remember if they changed the threshhold; or decided that non-consecutive higher readings were nothing to worry about.)

It's possible right now that there are too many doubts about mad cow disease and that when they know more they will start taking blood from travelers to and residents of England again.

Another worthy cause to donate your blood to is for bone marrow screening. The chance of finding a suitable donor for someone needing marrow is about 1 in 30,000; so the bigger the pool, the better the chances. It's a long process too.
I was screened originally in 1989. A year later I received a letter informing me that I was a potential match and would I go for another blood test. I went for the test and never heard back; so I guess the second test excluded me as a match. (The patient or his/her insurance paid for the test.) I believe there are a total of 5 or 6 tests; each one more discriminating (and expensive) than the previous one. If you pass all the tests for compatibility and agree, then you are taken to wherever the patient is (though you're not allowed to meet the patient for at least a year) to donate. If I remember correctly the marrow is taken from the hip and the donor has a sore hip for about a week. (The person at the HLA registry who I talked to said it would feel as if one was kicked by a donkey.) For more info on being a marrow donor check this out.
Correction: Medpundit pointed out a mistake here. I must have had the end of the post on my mind when I wrote the beginning. I was rejected for donations on account of my elevated ALT level, not HLA. ALT is an enzyme associated with the liver. An elevated level may suggest hepatitis.

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