HEALTHY YOU

Red Cross offers free COVID antibody testing of blood donations

'There is a constant need for blood'

With so many blood drives being canceled due to the pandemic, area blood banks are encouraging people to seek out opport
With so many blood drives being canceled due to the pandemic, area blood banks are encouraging people to seek out opportunities to donate blood. (Adobe Stock)

For anyone curious to know if they’ve had the coronavirus but were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, there’s a way to find out that also can help save lives.

The Red Cross is offering free screening for COVID-19 antibodies for all blood donations from now until the end of March. The program began in June through an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Really, what this does is it provides insight to our donors as to whether or not they have been exposed to the coronavirus,” said Laura McGuire, spokesperson for the Red Cross. “It does not mean that we are diagnostically testing.”

The antibody test is different from the diagnostic test that checks for a current infection. The antibody test assesses whether your immune system has responded to the COVID-19 infection, even if you experienced no symptoms. In the same way it is not meant to diagnose illness, it also cannot confirm your immunity.

All Red Cross blood donations are automatically being tested for COVID antibodies. If antibodies are shown to be present, the Red Cross is able to extract plasma from the blood and use it to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The Red Cross will contact donors with antibodies as to what their next steps would be based on blood type and eligibility factors to see if they would be a good fit to donate convalescent plasma.

The results are available to donors within one to two weeks after their donation by logging into their account on the Blood Donor App or on the Red Cross website. Donors also will be able to see the results of their miniphysical, including their blood pressure and iron levels.

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The Red Cross, which supplies 40 percent of the blood throughout the country, is the only local blood bank testing all blood donations at this time.

The DeGowin Blood Center at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City and the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center (with locations in Cedar Rapids) are only testing for antibodies as part of their convalescent plasma donation programs, although both groups say they still have a strong need for blood donations.

“We’re always trying to keep up with demand, so any whole blood or platelet donation is greatly appreciated,” Dr. Mike Knudson, medical director of the DeGowin Blood Center, said. Each week, more than 450 blood products are transfused at the hospital.

Blood can be donated safely every 56 days, whereas platelets can be donated every seven days up to 24 times a year. “Power Red” donations, or a double blood donation, can be done every 112 days.

Donors must be feeling well and not on antibiotics, be at least 17 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds.

People who receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which have an inactive or RNA-based version of the virus, can donate blood right away, according to the FDA.

Donors are advised to make an appointment before donating at the DeGowin Blood Center in Iowa City or the Mississippi Valley blood donation centers in Cedar Rapids.

For those who would like to donate through the Red Cross, visit redcrossblood.org, where you can make an appointment at a local Red Cross donation center or input your ZIP code and find a list of blood drives in the area. If a local drive’s appointments are full, don’t give up.

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“Realize that your blood is just as important in two weeks as it is today. There is a constant need for blood, and, unfortunately, we cannot stockpile blood. It does have an expiration date,” McGuire said.

While 80 percent of the Red Cross’ blood drives traditionally happen at schools, businesses and places of worship, many of these drives have been shut down due to pandemic restrictions. However, other opportunities have arisen, such as blood drives at hotels, which aren’t seeing as much wedding and business conference traffic during the pandemic.

“This is the time of year to really think of others, especially through the pandemic. The gift of life is very special,” McGuire said. “When you give blood or blood products, you’re really giving the gift of life.”

TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME BLOOD DONORS:

• Eat a meal before donating to reduce the risk of a drop in blood pressure that could cause dizziness.

• Drink plenty of fluids beforehand; well-hydrated veins are easier to find and draw from.

• If your blood is usually low in iron, you may not be able to donate, so for a day or two before eat foods rich in iron such as red meat, greens, whole grain cereals, eggs and seafood.

• Only donate when you are feeling healthy.

• Get a good night’s sleep the night before.

• Expect the process to take a while. With screening and registration beforehand and eating a few refreshments afterward, you can expect it to take an hour or more.

• Take your time afterward. Slowly sit up and then after a few moments stand up. Most blood centers and blood drives provide a separate seating area to relax and enjoy a snack and water after donating.

• Take it easy that day and the next day. Eat protein and drink plenty of fluids.

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09:00AM | Thu, February 04, 2021

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