Lifeblood – Blood Transfusions Explained

Thinking of having a company blood drive? Here’s what you need to know about blood transfusions and donations.

What are blood transfusions used for?

Transfusions are done on patients who have lost a lot of blood or whose bodies can’t make adequate blood, including women giving birth, premature babies, accident or trauma patients, and surgical and cancer patients.

What happens during donation?

You’ll be asked questions about your health and lifestyle, and a finger prick test and blood pressure test will be done to check your iron levels and blood pressure to ensure you’re fit to donate. A needle will then be placed in your arm and 480ml blood will be drawn.

Can you contract HIV by donating blood?

No. All needles and finger prick lancets are sterile and used once only.

What happens to the blood after donation?

Every unit is tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis. Once cleared, the units are separated into their components – red blood cells, platelets and plasma – and given to patients as needed.

Who can’t donate blood?

You can’t donate blood if you:

  • Have HIV, hepatitis B or C, or any sexually transmitted disease, or think you might have been exposed to such a disease.
  • Are older than 65 or younger than 16.
  • Weigh less than 50kg.
  • Are breastfeeding.
  • Have donated in the last 56 days.

For other conditions, there are waiting periods before you may donate blood. These include:

  • Malaria: up to 3 years
  • Colds and flu: 7 days
  • Hepatitis A: 1 year
  • After getting tattoos, piercings or acupuncture: 6 months
  • After surgery, giving birth or receiving blood: 6 months

If you have or have had a chronic medical condition in your lifetime (including cancer, heart disease and epilepsy), or are on medication, you should mention this to the staff on duty and check whether you may donate.

Did you know?

Some people need to ‘donate’ blood regularly as a treatment for their medical conditions – a process known as therapeutic phlebotomy. Some of these conditions include polycythaemia (where the body produces too many red blood cells, which could lead to strokes or heart attacks), and haemochromatosis (where the body absorbs too much iron from food, which can damage the liver, pancreas and heart).

by Delia du Toit

Sources: South African National Blood Service, American Red Cross, Western Province Blood Transfusion Services

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