Blood Transfusion Guidelines for International Travelers
(This information originated from the WHO publication "World Health
Organization Global Programme on AIDS: Blood Transfusion Guidelines for
International Travellers." )
There is growing public awareness of the AIDS epidemic, and a resulting
concern about acquiring the AIDS virus through blood transfusions. Systematic
screening of blood donations is not yet feasible in all developing countries.
Requests have been made by persons planning international travels, to have
their own blood, or blood from their home country, available to them in case of
urgent need. These requests raise logistic, technical and ethical issues which
are not easy to resolve. Ultimately, the safety of blood for such persons will
depend upon the quality of blood transfusion services in the host country. The
strengthening of these services is of the highest priority. While efforts are
being made to achieve this end, other approaches are also needed.
- Unexpected, emergency blood transfusion is rarely required. It is
needed only in situations of massive hemorrhage like severe trauma, gynecologic
and obstetric emergency, or gastrointestinal bleeding.
- In many cases, resuscitation can be achieved by use of colloid or
crystalloid plasma expanders instead of blood.
- Blood transfusion is not free of risk, even in the best of
conditions. In most developing countries, the risk is increased by limited
technical resources for screening blood donors for HIV infection and other
diseases transmissible by blood.
- The international shipment of blood for transfusion is practical
only when handled by agreement between two responsible organizations, such as
national blood transfusion services. This mechanism is not useful for emergency
needs of individual patients and should not be attempted by private individuals
or organizations not operating recognized blood programs.
- There are no medical indications for travelers to take blood with
them from their home country.
- The limited storage period of blood and the need for special
equipment negate the feasibility of independent blood banking for individual
travelers or small groups.
- Blood should be transfused only when absolutely indicated. This
applies even more forcefully in those countries where screening of blood for
transmissible diseases is not yet widely performed.
- When urgent resuscitation is necessary, the use of plasma expanders
rather than blood should always be considered.
- In case of emergency need of blood, use of plasma expanders and
urgent evacuation home may be the actions of choice.
- When blood transfusion cannot be avoided, the attending physician
should make every effort to ensure that the blood has been screened for
transmissible diseases, including HIV.
- International travelers should:
- take active steps to minimize the risk of injury;
- establish a plan for dealing with medical emergencies;
- support the development within countries of safe and adequate blood
Excerpted from:U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. HHS Publication No. (CDC) 94-8280. June,
1994. pg. 157.
Your Armchair Advisor says " if traveling in a country with inadequate
health facilities, you may want to check with your doctor or a travel medicine
specialist about carrying some of your own medical supplies. To protect
yourself from unsafe needles or blood supply, you may want to investigate
traveller's medical insurance for evacuation and check on the availability of a
possible supply of uncontaminated blood."
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