As the threat of Hurricane Irene shut down business along the U.S. East Coast, it forced the cancellation of more than 60 scheduled blood drives, resulting in a shortfall of more than 2,100 units of blood, according to the American Red Cross.
The storm has not boosted the demand for blood products, but more than 44,000 donations are needed daily across the United States to help accident victims, cancer patients and people with blood disorders.
"When a disaster like Hurricane Irene strikes, it doesn't diminish the need, even though some donors may find it more difficult to donate," said Stephanie Millian, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. "That's why we're asking people in unaffected areas to step up."
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Despite widespread structural damage and power outages along Irene's multistate path, blood collected and stored before the storm is safe. But the supply of universal donor blood, which is usually stocked at the three-to-five-day inventory level, has dropped below the two-day minimum level.
"O-negative blood is at the lowest level today," said Rob Purvis, vice president of New York Blood Center. "But at this point we need everybody who can donate to donate regardless of what their blood type is."
Six blood collection centers in the Northeast that provide nearly half of the region's blood supply have only enough blood to last two days, according to the America's Blood Centers website. One center has only enough blood for one day.
The blood donation lull is likely to continue as companies struggling to return to business as usual cancel drives, Purvis said.
"The Department of Sanitation had to cancel their drives because of the extra work they had to do," said Purvis. "People are busy doing their jobs. And in terms of priorities, blood donation is really low on the list."
The impending holiday and back to school season will also slow the flow of donated blood, Purvis said.
"We need the help of our communities to replenish the blood supply."