Algarve hospitals still need blood after reserves run dangerously low

Algarve hospitals are still in need of blood despite the positive response to a plea made last month by the Portuguese Blood Institute, which warned that blood reserves in hospitals had reached a critical point.

So said Dr José Delgado Marquez, director of immunohemotherapy at the Algarve University Hospital Board (CHUA), in an interview with Barlavento newspaper in which he urged citizens to continue donating blood.

As he explained, January is usually a critical month because there are “fewer donors and more people being hospitalised,” particularly older patients who are admitted due to the “cold weather and the flu”.

However, this year the situation became even more severe as the pandemic is taking a toll on the number of people donating.

Fortunately, many people stepped forward and kept the situation from escalating following the appeal from the Portuguese Blood Institute. But the call is now for citizens to continue donating in order to keep blood reserves at acceptable levels.

“We have had full houses every day,” Marquez said, referring to the number of people who have been donating blood, “many first-time donors”.

“This is excellent because we have enough blood for transfusions, we do not have to postpone surgeries or any other clinical intervention,” he told Barlavento.

“No matter their age, they are donating blood for the first time and many will do so again. This has been a way of seeing our pool of donors renovated and increased,” the doctor said.

Luckily, the Algarve has never seen blood reserves drop to the point that surgeries had to be delayed or that patients went untreated.

“However, we would like to be in a better situation, of course. When there is a shortage of blood donations, we open the (blood bank) refrigerators and the little that is left has to be managed very well,” said Marquez.

“It’s the same when you don’t have much money. You don’t stop eating, but maybe you have to change the way you eat,” he added.

Adapting to the situation is key, and this is exactly what blood services have had to do with the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced several changes to the blood collection process.

“We are dealing with a highly contagious and deadly virus. We all have to follow the recommendations of the health board (DGS) and the entity that controls blood services with maximum attention. Our concern is to guarantee that all measures are rigorously followed, from disinfecting hands to cleaning chairs between donations and ensuring distancing. It is very important that people feel safe.”

While blood donors do not have to be tested for Covid-19, there are strict safety rules in place.

“Any donor will always have to schedule in advance. Then they will be submitted to a clinical triage, which is identical to the one carried out before the pandemic, although we have added many questions to the medical interview related to Covid to rule out the possibility that donors are infected,” he said.

“The triage is thorough, but it has to be. Furthermore, we always tell donors that their blood may be put aside immediately if they develop any new symptom such as a fever, a sore throat or cough, which they should immediately report,” Marquez added.

It’s a necessary precaution, as there have been people who have donated blood who were “completely asymptomatic” and had not come into contact with anyone infected with Covid-19 (that they had known about), and later developed symptoms.

“It’s not frequent, but it has happened. Donors can contact us and tell us how they’re feeling up to two weeks after the donation. This is very important and is one of the safety recommendations,” said the doctor, adding that donated blood can be kept in storage for up to 42 days before being used.

Even if someone has tested negative for Covid-19 but is experiencing symptoms, the recommendation is to ‘wait’ before making a donation.

“Any kind of flu, cold or tonsillitis is produced by a living microorganism which can be a virus or bacteria that is also found in the blood. It can be transferred to someone fragile and with a weakened immune system, which can lead to complications or even death,” he warned.

But can you donate blood if you have been vaccinated against Covid-19? According to Marquez, the answer is yes, “albeit with an asterisk”.

“What I always recommend is to wait a few days after receiving the second dose of the vaccine, because it can cause reactions such as fever.”

Said Marquez, everyone at CHUA’s immunohemotherapy units has already been vaccinated.

“The blood services are considered ‘risky’ because we also receive samples from people infected with Covid-19. So, everyone at the Portimão and Faro units has been vaccinated.”

If you would like to donate blood, contact Portimão or Faro hospital (282 450 300 and 289 891 275) to find out when it is possible.

Original article written by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper.