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Low Blood Levels for Emergency Care

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - As temperatures drop, the demand for blood donors rises. The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center says its only at about 65% capacity for type O-negative blood. That's the universal blood type. Right now, area hospitals have enough blood to operate as normal. But there's not enough in Eastern Iowa in the emergency reserves.

Staff say the problem is two-fold. This time of year, donations drop. You have the holiday season, cold weather, and the occasional snow storms that keep people in doors. And now, the blood center is dealing with the flu epidemic.

"We tend to start every New Year with a lower blood inventory than we would like to have," said Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center Director of Public Relations Kirby Winn.

That's why Marion's Roy Rhodes makes sure to donate during his lunch break; more than 110 times over three decades.

"I feel good having done it because if i can make a difference in someone's life that's what i want to do," said blood donor Roy Rhodes.

But more than wanting to donate, some people just can't because of the flu spreading across the nation. To combat that problem, the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center offers free flu shots to regular donors like Roy. The blood center gives out a free flu shot from September 17, 2012 to December,31,2012, before the flu season set in.

In 2011, they gave out 315 free flu shots to regular donors in Linn County. This past fall, the blood center gave out 556. But the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center covers hospitals and medical centers across Eastern Iowa. In all, in 2011, the blood center gave out 4,314 free flu shots to regular donors at all sites. This past fall, that number peaked to 5,153 flu shots.

This program started a few years ago and keeps gaining steam. Blood center staff say they think this flu shot program is helping keep their donors healthy.

"It doesn't take too much time to get some protection so if it works for me it was worth doing it," said Rhodes.

But those record numbers of people with the virus across the nation haven't missed Eastern Iowa. Staff say they're seeing more people cancel or not show-up for their scheduled blood donor appointments. And many times they believe it's because donors are sick or have flu-like symptoms. Now, the distribution sites aren't keeping up with the anticipated blood levels.

"Those show rates have been lower which could be due to seasonal illnesses and the flu to make up for those missed appointments the better off we'll be," said Winn.

It might not be time to panic, but a time to think ahead in case the unpredictable happens.

"Our distribution hubs are lower than we'd like to have in order to respond to an emergency anywhere in the region of hospitals that we serve," said Winn.

The flu shot program is over at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center. And staff will not let you donate if you have a fever or other symptoms. And that's why they're asking all healthy people to donate to help keep up their reserves.

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