By Travis J. Tritten, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, April 11, 2009
For years, the use of unscreened blood transfusions exposed severely wounded servicemembers and other trauma patients in Iraq and Afghanistan to the inherent risk of diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and malaria, according to medical experts who advise the secretary of defense.
Battlefield attacks that resulted in mass casualties or severe injuries often overtaxed the military’s blood supply system until 2007, meaning medics collected fresh blood from those on site for emergency treatment of the wounded, the Defense Health Board wrote in a June 2008 report.
The unscreened blood transfusions, however, did not meet federal safety standards required of all other military blood supplies.
It was used in a “significant” number of cases until the practice was curbed dramatically due to the board’s criticism and advances in the war zone blood supply about two years ago, according to the report and the military’s blood supplier, the Armed Services Blood Program.
Use of unscreened blood has dropped by about 80 percent since 2007, when facility upgrades and new high-tech storage facilities allowed the military to provide more federally regulated blood downrange, said Col. Francisco Rentas, director of the Armed Services Blood Program.
But the emergency transfusions meant “wounded servicemembers may survive the acute event only to suffer from potentially fatal or chronically debilitating transfusion-associated infectious diseases in the future,” the Defense Health Board found.