Hospitals told to halt use of blood due to contamination

Saturday, February 1, 2003

ATLANTA -- Hospitals in Georgia and northern Florida were warned Friday to temporarily stop using some blood from the American Red Cross because it was feared contaminated with mysterious white particles.

The Red Cross reported that the particles are not infectious agents and that no harmful effects in patients have been reported.

The particles probably came from the plastic bags in which the blood was collected, said Chris Hrouda, Red Cross chief executive for blood services in the Southern region.

The Red Cross said that so far, 110 of the approximately 4,000 units stored at its regional center have been found to be contaminated.

But the agency was unable to say whether any contaminated blood reached any of the more than 140 hospitals it supplies in Georgia and northern Florida.

Members of the Georgia Hospital Association were advised not to use the blood, forcing them to postpone elective surgery and use backup supplies of blood for emergencies.

The association consists of 185 hospitals, but not all of them get blood from the Red Cross.

The Red Cross said it is working with a maker of blood bags and the Food and Drug Administration to find out how the contamination happened.

The FBI released a statement Friday evening saying it was monitoring the situation "as a precaution," even though the initial investigation showed that the contamination was not intentional.

Hrouda said that only blood in bags manufactured by Baxter International Inc. was contaminated.

However, a spokeswoman for Baxter said the problem had nothing to do with the bags.

The company's investigation showed the substance was "biologic in nature and most likely blood related," spokeswoman Deborah Spak said.

Dr. Leslie Holness, a blood specialist with the FDA, said all the bags affected were older ones that are being phased out by the Red Cross.

The southern region is the only one still using them, Holness said.

Mary Malarkey, a director with the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the contaminant will be tested at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The contaminant can be seen with the naked eye and is practically translucent, said Dr. Christopher D. Hillyer, an Emory University professor who works with the Red Cross. He said the blood could still turn out to be usable.

"We're taking more of a cautious approach and putting the blood on hold," said Kevin Bloye, a spokesman with the Georgia Hospital Association. "For some of our hospitals without a large supply of blood in reserve, that's a big problem."

"Blood is available for emergency surgeries," said Marcy Blount, spokeswoman for the Red Cross Blood Services Southern region.

"We are asking hospitals not to use some of the blood in their inventories while we are having a quality assurance review."

Emory University Hospital expected to receive blood from outside the region by the afternoon, spokesman Brad Minor said.

"It hasn't affected any patient care," Minor said. "We've basically rescheduled our surgeries so the ones that don't require blood are in the morning and the ones that do are in the afternoon."

He added: "We deal with blood shortages all the time, so it's nothing new to us."

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