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Watch the news every night, you might get the impression that blood is is a sorry state. With diseases like ebola, chikungunya, and a new hepatitis c relative getting media attention all the time, you could be forgiven for worrying about the safety of the blood we’ve got available. People are understandably squeamish about blood at the best of times, but high profile hazards get folks especially nervous.
But don’t worry. Blood transfusions are safer than ever. That’s according to a new report by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Every year, medical professionals get better at making sure the blood that moves from person to person is safe for everyone involved. Here are a few reasons that our blood supply is safer than ever.
Hygiene always makes progress. Breakthroughs in bacterial research, hospital hygiene, and antibiotics make our blood supply safer every single year. Even doctors are getting attention on ways to improve their daily handwashing techniques. Poor hygiene used to be a huge problem with blood safety—in the earliest days of transfusion, patients often received blood in filthy conditions, or even received the blood of animals. Early transfusion patients often died, developed sepsis (blood poisoning), or picked up other vicious bugs from the hands of doctors and nurses.
The development of antibiotics last century was probably one of humanity’s greatest triumphs. Antibiotics have saved so many lives it becomes impossible to count them; without them, even basic operations and surgeries would be extremely risky, and many of them would be unthinkable. Without antibiotics, blood transfusions and blood drives would not be the safe single day procedures they are today. When you’re wondering about the safety of a blood transfusion, compare the current situation with that of one hundred years ago. You’ll be grateful to live in such an advanced world.
Speaking of the ease of blood donations, consider this: every day, medical professionals haul their equipment up to schools, universities, and other highly populated place, and people line up to give their blood up for free. Blood donors are everyday heroes. The popularity and ease of blood donations speaks to the effective communication strategies that public health experts have used over the past century. If you think about it, donating and receiving blood should be weird and gross; as it is, the process is safe, easy, and clean. The large numbers of donors means that doctors have tons of choices available to them when deciding on which type of blood they want to transfuse. Thank doctors, hard-working nurses, and everyday donors for making sure we have a safe and clean blood supply.
Like all sciences, medicine has to deal regularly with big unknowns. But the research keeps going, and medical studies identify new things to worry about. Or in some cases, they find things to not worry about—a new study of Danish and Swedish transplant recipients showed that one form of leukemia has no connection with transfusions. This research gives patients and doctors one less thing to worry about, and will help ensure future discoveries.