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Health Answers: Where does blood go once it’s donated?

Q. Where does blood go once it’s donated?

A. When you donate blood, about a pint — plus a few test tubes’ worth — is collected; all are labeled with an identifying code. “Everything is tracked,” says Patricia Pisciotto, chief medical officer of American Red Cross Blood Services, East Division. The test tubes are sent to a laboratory where the blood is tested for blood type and for several infectious diseases (if a donation tests positive, it’s discarded).

Most donated blood is separated into three main components — red blood cells, platelets, and plasma — by spinning the blood in a centrifuge. Red blood cells, says Pisciotto, are refrigerated and stored up to 42 days; platelets are stored at room temperature for up to five days; and plasma can be kept frozen for up to a year.

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Blood donated to a blood center is processed and made available to hospitals within a few days of being collected. According to a 2011 survey of hospitals by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the hospital departments that used the most blood were general medicine, surgery, and hematology/oncology. Smaller amounts of blood were used in emergency rooms, obstetrics or pediatric units, transplant services, dialysis services, and intensive care units. Pisciotto says that while many people are aware that blood is needed to help trauma patients or replace blood lost in surgery, “there are lots of other patients who rely on transfusions as their lifeline,” including people with blood or bleeding disorders, cancer, and liver or kidney disease.


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