The Importance of Blood Availability on the Battlefield

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Getting a blood transfusion is not without risk. The life-saving advantage of a transfusion, however, far outweighs the risk. In a battle or war zone, blood is a precious commodity that must be supplied quickly and safely. One primary factor to consider before a transfusion is whether the blood donor’s blood matches the recipient’s blood type. Using a wrong blood type can be life-threatening. There are several adverse reactions possible when transferring blood even with a correct blood match:

  • rashes, itchy skin or hives
  • swelling
  • fever or jaundice
  • coughing or breathing difficulties
  • allergic reactions
  • infections

Blood Transfusion on the Battlefield Poses a Challenge

Blood is thoroughly tested and generally safe, when taken from healthy donors. It is then divided into red blood cells, platelets and plasma which are refrigerated and reconstituted when needed for a transfusion. In a military zone, this can be difficult as it takes time, and reconstituting blood may lessen its effectiveness. Storing and transporting blood to a military zone is also a factor. The primary reason for blood transfusions on the battlefield is blood loss. Using reconstituted blood is a viable option even if it is difficult to keep in supply. Both fresh blood and reconstituted blood are needed in a military zone. Time is of the essence when a soldier is injured and needs blood urgently. Despite the risk of infection or other reactions, a transfusion can save a life.

The military has a Walking Blood Bank where soldiers volunteer to donate blood as it is needed. This is called fresh whole blood, which can be more effective than reconstituted blood. In Afghanistan, for example, Walking Blood Bank donors are pre-screened and called in to donate blood when needed and it can be quickly taken to an emergency room and transfused into a patient. This is the preferred method of transfusion when dealing with acute loss of blood.

Whether using reconstituted blood or fresh blood, all types of blood are needed on the battlefield. It is even possible to donate platelets, plasma (these are useful in coagulating and clotting) and red blood cells separately. Several Army and Armed Services agencies collect blood donations for servicemen and women. Donors are needed on a regular basis as blood cannot be stored indefinitely. It is a gift of life to donate blood, and one that can save our wounded troops.

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