In the first ever study tracking the safety of blood transfusions in SA, the SA National Blood Service (SANBS) found that local blood services are as safe as those in any developed country.
The first Haemovigilance Report, released today (Tues) in Johannesburg, found no confirmed cases of disease being transmitted through a transfusion in 2000 – the year under study.
However, Dr Teresa Nel, a medical director of the SANBS, said this should not be interpreted that there is no risk of being infected by a transfusion with the HIV/Aids or hepatitis virus. The window period of infectivity made it impossible to determine the early stages of infection by these viruses and there would always be a risk of this.
There were three unconfirmed reports of HIV infection. However, it was not possible to follow up and confirm whether this was due to the transfusion as the patients had already died.
The safety of SA blood products is seen as an outcome of efforts to educate prospective donors and asking them to be honest about the risk of their exposure to HIV or hepatitis.
But disease transmission is not the only risk. Of the 882 000 blood products that were transfused in 2000, fifty serious transfusion reactions were reported. Half of these were immune reactions caused by patients reacting to incompatible blood, mostly through an administrative error. Three of these patients, with severe reactions to the blood transfusion, died.
Dr Nel said the greatest danger of a transfusion was linked to human error where the patient was not correctly identified, either in the laboratory or, far more commonly, in the ward or operating theatre, and received blood that was intended for another patient.
This highlighted the need to educate doctors on the complications involved.
The aim of this Haemovigilance Programme was not only to identify complications, but also to use this report as a basis for ongoing efforts to make blood transfusions even safer.