Editorials

A SHOT in the arm for safer blood transfusion

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7067.1221 (Published 16 November 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1221
  1. Lorna M Williamson,
  2. Julia Heptonstall,
  3. Kate Soldan
  1. Lecturer in transfusion medicine University of Cambridge/East Anglia Blood Centre, Cambridge CB2 2PT
  2. Consultant microbiologist Public Health Laboratory Service, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, Colindale, London NW9 5EQ
  3. National Blood Service/CDSC Infection surveillance officer Watford WD1 1QH

    A new surveillance system for transfusion hazards

    How safe is blood transfusion in 1996? Despite recent publicity surrounding contaminated blood bags and hepatitis C virus, it is probably safer than it has ever been. More rigorous donor selection, improved viral screening tests, tighter quality control, and accreditation of hospital laboratories have all played a part. But there is no room for complacency. As was highlighted by an editorial in the BMJ two years ago, preventable deaths after transfusion still occur.1

    The commonest cause of transfusion related death in the United States, where reporting to the Food and Drugs Administration is mandatory, is the transfusion of ABO incompatible blood.2 A British survey revealed that episodes where wrong blood is given to a patient as a result of poor patient identification may complicate as many as 1 in 30 000 transfusions.3 Mortality is minimised, firstly, because the distribution of blood groups in the British population means that two thirds of “wrong” transfusions are by chance ABO compatible and, secondly, by the fact that only 1 in 10 ABO incompatible transfusions is fatal.4 Nevertheless, such episodes, and other near miss events, reveal serious deficiencies in the transfusion process. Rarer immunological complications such as transfusion associated graft versus host disease …

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