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The importance of blood types

July 26, 2012
By ZACH KUKKONEN - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - While knowing one's blood type may not have a large effect on day-to-day life, that knowledge could save lives, even one's own.

When in an emergency situation away from a hospital, instead of using valuable O-type blood or utilizing precious time testing one's blood type, emergency personnel can match blood types exactly.

"It's really important (to know your blood type), especially in emergency situations," said Dr. Zuhair Ghanem, a hematologist with Aspirus Keweenaw. "If you're bleeding after a trauma, emergency personnel might need to help you with an immediate transfusion. If you have a card in your wallet, it can help with what blood to look for."

Knowing whether one has a positive or negative blood is also valuable. People with negative blood must be especially aware, as they lack a protein called the Rh antigen, and are in the minority of the general population.

"Fifteen percent of the caucasian population is Rh negative, while 7 to 8 percent of African Americans are Rh negative," Ghanem said.

With a rarer blood type, people with negative blood types have less of a population to take blood from, as they cannot accept positive blood.

"If you're Rh negative, and you're given Rh positive blood, you will have an immune reaction, and your body will reject it," Ghanem said.

While that is a rarity, as hospitals and emergency personnel are careful to not mix the two, it becomes more complicated when an Rh negative female is pregnant. If the mother is Rh negative and the father is Rh positive, more care needs to be taken, according to Ghanem. If the baby ends up being Rh-positive, and blood of the baby gets mixed with the blood of the mother, a hemolytic reaction occurs, which can result in a number of serious effects, even death of the fetus or newborn.

To prevent that from happening, an injection of Rh immunoglobin is used at 28 weeks - or sooner, if complications arise - as well as right after delivery. This has reduced the risk of hemolytic reaction by 99 percent, according to Ghanem.

Another positive in knowing one's blood type is for blood donations. Hospitals often have shortages of certain blood types, and lives can be saved with specific or general donations. Those that are Rh negative are especially needed to donate, as they do not have as big of a population to draw from.

"O negative is the universal donor, and negatives are rare and needed because only 15 percent of the population is Rh negative," said Sallie Coron, coordinator of blood collection for the Upper Peninsula Regional Blood Center.

Blood donors are especially needed during the summer, as donations severely drop off at that time.

"People are busy, it's vacation time and it's summertime," Coron said.

According to Coron, the demand is high this year, and for various reasons, donations are down.

"The warm weather and how the 4th of July came into effect on the calendar has really affected our donations," she said. "There's been some pretty horrific accidents in the U.P., so we've had a lot of users for less donations. We also don't have high schoolers and college students as much."

The local U.P. Regional Blood Center is located at 787 Market St. Suite 6 near Pat's Foods in Hancock. For more information, or to make an appointment, call 483-1392.



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