Mystery particles detected; Red Cross says #039;no threat#039;

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 4, 2003

The Alabama Red Cross has quarantined 87 units of blood and has begun testing them for potential contamination. The move comes on the heels of a quarantine by the Nashville-area Red Cross that pulled over 70 percent of that group's blood out of circulation when mysterious white particles were found floating in numerous bags of blood.

According to Mary Lee Conwell, the Communications Coordinator for the Alabama-Central Gulf Coast Region Red Cross, which includes Alabama, the 87 pints of blood represent less than 10 percent of the blood supply for the region and the white substance is not contagious.

&uot;We do import blood from Georgia and Tennessee, but we've tested all of that blood,&uot; she said. &uot;We've found that the contaminant is not contagious and there have been no adverse reports from any patients.&uot;

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Conwell said Alabama hospitals, unlike Atlanta area hospitals, had not had to cancel any surgeries. However, Conwell did confirm that some of the tainted blood had made it into circulation before the white contaminant was detected.

&uot;We've sent 11 units off to our lab in Atlanta for testing and we notified all the hospitals and patients that received the blood. They are being monitored,&uot; she said.

According to Conwell, Alabama continues to import blood from other states due to sparse donations within the state. She said the amount imported varied based on supply and demand needs.

Although the results of the tests may not be in for days, Conwell said the particulates may be a result of some faulty blood bags.

&uot;We hadn't heard of anything like this before,&uot; she said. &uot;We believe it may be from the blood bags since they're all from the same manufacturer. In our region, we get kits from three manufacturers. The contaminated ones were all from the same company. We're not all dependent on one manufacturer, thank goodness.&uot;

Conwell said the Alabama Red Cross had been in full cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control.

&uot;This makes the need to give blood more urgent. Absolutely,&uot; she said. &uot;We need more people to give because that's 87 units that we aren't going to be able to get to patients.&uot;

Though the Red Cross insists that the particles are neither contagious nor dangerous, new bags are being provided to replace the ones purchased from the company, identified in published reports as Baxter International.

&uot;The top priority of the American Red Cross is the safety and availability of the blood supply and the patients who rely on life saving blood,&uot; said the organization in a press release.

Stephen Stetson can be reached at stephen.stetson