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Infectious and Non-Infectious Risks of Blood Transfusions

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

About 5 million Americans receive blood transfusions per year, and it is usually a very safe procedure. It is used to replace components in your blood that have been depleted due to injury, illness, or surgery. In the very rare case of something going wrong, you should consult your personal injury attorney at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., to determine if there was negligence in handling your care.

What is a Blood Transfusion?

A blood transfusion is a life-saving procedure, where blood or blood components are infused into your vein through a thin tube.

Donor blood is readily available, and blood banks do extensive testing to ensure the safety of the blood; however, the safest blood to use is your own (autologous) as there is less risk of infectious diseases being passed on or having a reaction to the donor blood. You can also use directed donor blood, where you know the donor. Blood banks will collect, screen, store, and transport the blood.

Donors with type O blood are considered universal donors, and their blood can be used for most people.

In general, the risk of adverse events is extremely low, but it does happen, and medical professionals need to monitor the patient closely during the transfusion to pick up potential problems as early as possible.

If you have had an injury caused by a blood transfusion, contact a personal injury law firm such as Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., for a free evaluation of your case. We can help you determine if there is a party at fault, be it the blood bank, the hospital, or medical personnel.

Benefits of Blood Transfusions

Without certain components in your blood or enough blood volume for circulation, you may develop life-threatening conditions, and you can only donate your own blood for autologous transfusion if you are undergoing elective surgery. Benefits include the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells to your brain and organs, which are critical to your health, as well as the ability to prevent or control bleeding via platelets, plasma, and cryoprecipitate or replacement coagulation factors.

When do You Need a Blood Transfusion?

There are several reasons why you may require a blood transfusion:

  • Lost blood – due to injuries, accidents or surgery
  • Blood disorder
  • Severe liver problems
  • Anemia (lack of red blood cells), e.g., kidney disease or leukemia
  • Internal bleeding from, e.g., ulcer
  • Cancer treatments, e.g., chemotherapy or radiation

Blood Types

You have a blood type that is either A, B, AB, or O; and need to get blood products matched to that type, or you will develop antibodies. You also have to consider the Rh-factor, and if it is negative or positive. If you are Rh-negative, you can only receive Rh-negative blood. AB is considered the universal recipient, as you can receive any type of blood.

Types of Blood Transfusions

The most common types of blood transfusions include:

  • Red Blood Cell Transfusions – increases the hemoglobin and iron levels
  • Platelet Transfusions – replaces platelets damaged due to illness or treatment
  • Plasma Transfusions – replaces liquid and important proteins and other substances
  • Whole Blood Transfusions – not commonly used but contains all the components

Complications of Blood Transfusions

Complications of blood transfusion can include the following:

Early complications:

  • Thrombophlebitis
  • Air embolism
  • Allergic reactions to proteins, IgA
  • Reactions secondary to bacterial contamination
  • Hypothermia
  • Hemolytic reactions (immediate or delayed – an immune reaction antibodies destroy the newly transfused red blood cells)
  • Non-hemolytic febrile reactions
  • Transfusion-related acute lung injury
  • Circulatory overload
  • Hyperkalaemia
  • Citrate toxicity
  • Clotting abnormalities (after massive transfusion)

Late complications:

  • Immune sensitization (Rhesus D antigen)
  • Graft-vs-host disease
  • Transmission of infection
    • Viral (hepatitis A, B, C, HIV, CMV)
    • Bacterial (Treponema pallidum, Salmonella)
    • Parasites (malaria, toxoplasma)
  • Iron overload (after chronic transfusions)

What is the Real Risk of Infection?

Blood banks do a thorough screening of blood donors through surveys, and testing donated blood, and anything remotely suspect is discarded; however, there is a minuscule risk of transmission of infections in the blood provided:

  • Hepatitis B: 1 in 293,000
  • Hepatitis C: 1 in 1.2 million
  • HIV: 1 in 1.5 million

Compared to the risk of dying in a car accident at 1 in 5,000 or being in a deadly plane crash at 1 in 500,000, the chances of being given infected blood is truly minuscule.

However, if this is the case, and it can be proven, you should engage the services of a top personal injury lawyer at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. to assist you with the myriad of paperwork and filings.

Of course, there is always the risk of infection being introduced in the hospital in any invasive procedure, either via the medical professional’s hands carrying bacteria, contaminated surfaces, non-sterile equipment, and the spread of bacteria via droplets or air. Localized wound infection is not related to the blood but rather the transfusion procedure.

Other Non-infectious Problems

A severe allergic reaction is not something that can be foreseen, but it does happen from time to time. Mistransfusion is regarded as negligence, where the patient is given the wrong blood. It is normally required that two people check the transfusion bag with the patient’s name and date of birth to ensure that the right blood is given to the right patient and that the right blood type and Rhesus type were ordered.

Respiratory distress due to fluid overload is possible if there is any lapse in watching the rate at which blood is transfused at – it is normally given via a blood warmer machine, that automatically controls the rate of infusion based on your settings. In some critical cases, doctors will push fluid as quickly as humanly possible as the patient is losing it very fast in an effort to save their life. This is where your local personal injury lawyers need to rely on their expert witness contact list to provide the right level of medical evaluation.

Transfusion-related Acute Lung Injury is another serious complication.

Non-infectious Problems

Get Legal Assistance

If you live in Michigan, and wish to file a medical malpractice case, call Eileen Kroll, a registered nurse, and personal injury trial attorney, at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, at 866-MICH-LAW. There is no obligation for a case evaluation, and no fee is charged unless a recovery is made. Be sure to note the statute of limitations is three years so that you do not miss your opportunity to file.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Nikole has a special interest in medical-legal issues and holds post-basic degrees in medical law and business. She has developed quality improvement and safety plans for many practices and facilities to prevent medical-legal issues and teaches several courses on data protection and privacy, legal, medical examinations and documentation, and professional ethics. She has been writing professionally on legal, business, ethics, patient advocacy, research and medico-legal issues in articles, white papers, business plans, and training courses for over thirty-five years.



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