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How colds and flu impact blood donations — and how you can help

Blog post | 05 Jun 2019

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service is in urgent need of blood donations as more people cancel their appointments because they're sick.

On an average day in Australia, more than 5,000 people give blood. But an early start to the cold and flu season has seen up to 1,400 donors cancel per day. The Blood Service hasn't experienced this many cancellations since March 2017 — a particularly bad year for flu.

The Queen's Birthday long weekend is expected to make the problem worse if the public doesn't act.

"To meet the needs of Australian patients, we really need 5,900 additional people to donate [blood] over the next 2 weeks," says Blood Service spokesperson, Helen Walsh.

In particular, the Blood Service needs people with type O and A blood to donate, as nearly 9 in 10 Australians have one of these types.

What you can do

If you're well, you should strongly consider donating blood. Every blood donation can help save 3 lives. Even if you have a cold or are getting over the flu, you may still be able to help.

  • If you don't have a cold or the flu, visit Donateblood.com.au or call 13 14 95 to check if you're eligible and to make an appointment.

  • If you have a cold and have mild symptoms — such as a runny nose — but you don't have a fever, you can still donate plasma. Plasma is the fluid that carries the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

  • If you have a cold or the flu, you can donate blood, as normal, 7 days after you've recovered from your symptoms.

  • If you recently had the flu vaccination and are feeling well, you can still donate blood. Because it's not a 'live' vaccine, flu vaccination does not affect blood donation.

What happens when you give blood?

You might be wondering how blood donation works at an Australian Red Cross Blood Service donor centre. For donors, it involves a whole lot of doing nothing.

How long does it take?

The blood donation itself takes between 5 and 15 minutes, with the whole appointment taking 1 hour. Plasma or platelets donation takes 45 minutes, with the whole appointment taking 1.5 hours.

Welcome

When you arrive at the donor centre, you'll be greeted warmly by a reception staff member and your ID will be checked. You'll be asked to complete a confidential donor questionnaire.

Interview

A trained staff member will discuss your questionnaire answers with you and ask further questions to check that you're fine to donate. You'll have a 'finger prick' test to check your level of haemoglobin (a protein that contains iron) and your blood pressure will be tested.

Donation

You'll relax on a comfy chair or couch while you donate. You can read, chat with staff members or watch TV. Staff will monitor you closely to ensure you're OK, but speak up if you feel uncomfortable or worried.

Rest time

After your donation is completed, you'll rest on the couch for around 5 to 10 minutes. Then, you'll be invited to the refreshments area to relax for another 15 minutes with a complimentary drink and snack.

For more information

  • Talk to your GP if you have any questions about colds and flu, vaccination or blood donation.
  • Find out if you're eligible to donate blood and make an appointment at Donateblood.com.au, or call the Australian Red Cross Blood Service on 13 14 95.
  • Read more about colds and flu and the flu vaccine.

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