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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Blood Problem in Georgia

Aired January 31, 2003 - 13:52   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: There is a blood problem in Georgia and all across the South potentially. The Red Cross is asking hospitals to hold some units of donated blood. CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen here with a report on that -- Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles, this is a very unusual set of circumstances. Surgeries are being canceled in many Georgia hospitals because white particulate matter was found in some of the bags distributed by the American Red Cross. White particulate matter is all they're saying. We don't really know what that means. They'll be having a press conference within the hour. Hopefully, they'll explain that a little bit more.

As you said, there was a fax that was sent to Georgia hospitals this morning that said, don't use the blood. We have a quote from that fax. It says, "The American Red Cross blood services southern region advises the immediate quarantine of blood components in hospital inventories. They say, only use this blood in emergencies, and even if it's an emergency, lay the bag flat, observe them for five to 10 minutes, and see if you can see any white particulate matter."

Now the surgeries that they're canceling, or hoping to reschedule, of course, are heart surgeries, transplant surgeries, surgeries of that kind, where the person is very likely to need a transfusion.

I spoke to one hospital that said we've already canceled 10 to 15, we're probably going to cancel more. We're hoping some blood is supposed to come in soon, it's supposed to come in from out of state, that it's supposed to be safe to replace the blood that might have this mysterious white particulate matter -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, Elizabeth, I am confused now. Help me out, if you can. How serious a deal is this? Anything get into the blood supply should make us very worried, correct?

COHEN: Absolutely, it's seizure, because it shows how vulnerable the blood supply can be. Maybe this white particulate matter is not a big deal. The Red Cross says, we're erring on the side of caution, don't worry, everything's fine, and maybe that's true, maybe this white particulate matter is a problem, and they'll say, you know what, this is a big deal. We don't know.

But the blood supply is vulnerable to any time they notice something strange is happening. They have to alert people. They have to alert the hospitals, and say, don't use this blood. This is a big deal, Miles. If you were supposed to have heart surgery today in Georgia, guess what, chances are, you're probably not having it, and you're sitting and waiting for the hospital to get more blood. It is a big deal if you have a car accident and you go to a hospital, and they use this blood which may or may not be safe. So again, we saw this with West Nile Virus, we've seen this before, that the blood supply is vulnerable -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Let's put up a hypothetical, could somebody involved in a serious trauma situation arriving in an emergency room, could this put somebody in jeopardy?

COHEN: It could put somebody in jeopardy if this white particulate matter is dangerous, and we don't know the answer to that question right now. So someone has a car accident, goes to a hospital, and at some hospitals, they may be forced to use this blood, we have to use it , because this person is going to die if they don't get some blood. We don't know what this white particulate matter is. If it's something toxic, yes that could be a problem.

O'BRIEN: Do we have any idea at this juncture how this contamination might have occurred?

COHEN: We have no idea at all. Baxter is not returning our phone calls. The American Red Cross says that they don't know and they're on a fact-finding mission. We don't know the answer to that right now.

O'BRIEN: We'll be watching that very closely.

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