Flu pandemics could affect blood supplies, German study says

A German research team has examined data on supply and demand for blood transfusions against a computer simulation of an influenza pandemic, and discovered that a severe pandemic scenario could quickly lead to a deficit of up to 96,000 red blood cell (RBC) transfusion units in Germany alone, creating potentially fatal outcomes.

Their study, reported by ScienceDaily, was published Dec. 9 in the journal Transfusion.

"The pandemic model showed that after five to six weeks of a severe pandemic, there would be 220,000 fewer units than the normal supply, a reduction of 40-50 percent," said lead researcher Dr. Christel Kamp, of the Paul-Ehrlich Institute, Germany. "If we assume that 70 percent of required transfusion units are urgent and cannot wait, this could lead to approximately 100,000 units being denied to people who need them."

The supply of RBCs requires a delicate balance. RBCs need to be applied in life-threatening situations but can neither be synthetically produced nor be kept in stock for more than six weeks. This makes them an especially precious resource in situations of crisis such as an influenza pandemic because availability is dependent on the health of donors.

The study also highlighted parallel issues that could affect the supply of RBC units in a pandemic, such as blood collection staff staying home because of illness.

In addition, the study identified the need to conduct smaller and more frequent blood donor collection activities at fixed sites or mobile locations to reduce the risk of spreading influenza while still maintaining adequate blood inventories.