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Bags targeted in probe of Georgia blood supply

Red Cross: White specks apparently not 'infectious agents'

Red Cross: White specks apparently not 'infectious agents'

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- After asking hospitals throughout Georgia to quarantine units of blood possibly contaminated with unidentified white specks, the Red Cross said Friday that preliminary tests indicate the problem is likely with the bags and not the donated blood.

"Microscopic examination of the white particles indicate they do not appear to be infectious agents," said Chris Hrouda, chief executive officer of the Southern Region of the American Red Cross.

However, he said, the large particles, which are visible to the naked eye, have not yet been identified.

Several hospitals canceled elective operations Friday after receiving the "urgent notification" from the Red Cross on Thursday. Emergency procedures were not affected.

Hrouda said there have been no reports of patients suffering "adverse reactions" linked to the blood.

"These particles are very difficult to see," Hrouda said. "They are clear, translucent particles, and a blood bag is also clear and translucent. So it's difficult to see [any contaminant]."

He said there was "absolutely no effect" for blood donors and that it was "even more important today" for donations to the boost the blood supply.

The suspect blood-collection bags are made by Baxter Healthcare's Fenwal Division in Deerfield, Illinois A spokesman said Friday that company officials had just learned about the problem and, "at this time, they are collecting information."

Suspect bags isolated

The white particles were first noted Tuesday night during a routine check of a bag of blood, said Dr. Chris Hillyer, associate medical director of the Red Cross. During the next two days, further checks found the particles in 110 bags, he said.

One hospital has told the Red Cross that it found another 10 bags in its inventory that appear contaminated, Hrouda said.

"We have isolated the lot numbers associated with any units of those 110 units, and we are not collecting any blood in those associated lot numbers," he said.

The agency said the blood was collected in Georgia and northern Florida and was marked "Southern Region code 003."

Those units should be used only in emergencies, the Red Cross statement said. In those cases, the bags should be laid flat "and observed after five to 10 minutes for white specks or aggregate strands."

A spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the nation's blood supply, said the agency is investigating.

Elective surgeries likely to require blood transfusions have been cancelled, officials at several of the 140 hospitals in the affected region that use Red Cross blood told CNN.

The suspension affects about 4,000 bags of blood in the Southeast, Hillyer said.

But Hillyer added that several hundred units had been sent from other regions, and he anticipated that another 2,000 units would be sent to state hospitals this the weekend.

If blood centers receive "good donor turnout" next weekend, hospitals should have plenty of blood by Monday, he said.

FBI joins investigation

An FBI spokeswoman said the bureau is investigating and that there was no indication that the contamination was related to terrorism or tampering.

The chief executive officer of the American Association of Blood Banks said she heard about the problem late Thursday night from Red Cross officials. The blood bank group sets standards for the collection, storage and transfusion of all blood products in the country.

The blood withdrawal is not unusual, said Karen Shoos Lipton of the AABB. "We all understand that, if anything looks a little bit different, that what we do is recall the units immediately."

The only unusual thing, she said, is that the white specks' origin and possible effects are not known.

But Hrouda said the quarantine was an oddity. "I've never seen this before in my 15 years of blood-banking experience."

Hillyer agreed, saying he had never seen such a withdrawal in his 18 years of experience.

-- CNN producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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