Many First-Time Blood Donors Learning of HIV, Hepatitis Infections
Many people who donated blood for the first time in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are now learning that they have viral diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and syphilis, the Associated Press reports. Blood collection agencies have routinely screened donated blood for HIV and hepatitis since the mid-1980s, and all donors are asked about high-risk behaviors such as intravenous drug use. More than 330,000 people have donated blood to the American Red Cross since the attacks, Dr. Peter Page, a senior medical official with the agency, said, adding that on average slightly more than 1% of donors test positive for some type of infection. Sara Foer, Maryland spokesperson for the American Association of Blood Banks, said that in general one in 20,000 whole-blood donors will test positive for HIV, while one in 2,500 will have hepatitis B and one in 500 will test positive for hepatitis C.
Implications for New Donors
Because so many people have given blood for the first time in the last two weeks, those who have never been tested for these diseases are now learning of their infections from the blood collection agencies. "It would be a traumatic way to find out that there's a problem," noted David Bergmire-Sweat, director of the CDC's national hotlines run by the American Social Health Association in Research Triangle Park, N.C. People are "really panic-stricken. They have no idea what it means," Thelma King Thiel, chair of the Hepatitis Foundation International, said. Disease hotlines have seen an increase in volume from donors seeking information, and Thiel commented that such a response indicates the blood screens are ultimately "a good thing." Without them, she observed, people "may go blissfully on their way not knowing they are infected, spreading the disease" (Associated Press, 9/25).