Blood transfusions, which have always been somewhat chancy, have become a higher risk because of hepatitis and AIDS. Blood bank intake personnel are supposed to screen all blood donors for AIDS and hepatitis. The reality is that they do not always accomplish that. There have been thousands of AIDS and hepatitis victims from tainted blood. The cost of testing all the blood was so high that it was apparently cheaper to payoff a few lawsuits than screen all the incoming blood. The reality about blood banks is that they pay for most of the blood they receive. People who sell their blood are usually destitute intravenous drug abusers. This is an extremely high-risk population, and that makes blood transfusion dangerous. Current federal law requires labeling blood that identifies every purchased unit. Unless you or your loved one is getting an emergency transfusion, you should accept such blood only if there is no alternative.
If you want to donate blood directly to a family member or friend, you need to ask if the hospital blood bank has the ability to type, cross-match, and process your blood and give it to the intended recipient. Most local hospitals do not have that capability. They get their supply from a central blood bank, and your donation would go into the general stock.
Another alternative to accepting the risk of receiving tainted blood is autotransfusion. If you are planning elective surgery, you can donate blood to yourself if your hospital has such a program. In those places, the hospital will process your blood and keep it for your exclusive use. If you find yourself in a conversation with a surgeon about elective surgery, remember to ask about autotransfusion.
The other area of blood transfusion risk is mismatched blood. The results could be lethal, so the nurses must take great care in making certain that the blood type matches. Each blood transfusion unit has a serial number and the blood type. The standard procedure is for two nurses to check that the serial number on the bag matches the one on the ticket. They will also check the blood type against what is on the chart. The symptoms of blood reaction are low-grade fever and chills. This is a medical emergency, so if you happen to be the one who discovers it, get the nurse. You must get an immediate response. The nurse must first turn off the transfusion and then summon the doctor. The doctor must also respond immediately. He or she will prescribe certain drugs depending on the severity of the reaction.