LifeSouth still battling AB plasma shortage

The shortage of plasma from people with Type AB blood continues, but LifeSouth hopes a change that went into effect on June 11 could help them connect with a few more potential donors.

People with Type AB blood are rare – only about 4 percent of the population – but they play a vital role in emergencies.

When people donate blood, more than half of what goes into the donation bag is plasma, and only the plasma collected by blood centers from volunteer donors can be used for transfusions. AB plasma is considered the universal donor for these patients because it can be given to anyone in a case of emergency.

Finding these AB plasma donors got more challenging in April when the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks), made a change to its standards to help prevent transfusion related acute lung injury. This disorder, known as TRALI, is a rare adverse reaction, but it is the most common cause of transfusion-related deaths in the country. This ailment can be triggered by antibodies fighting against human leukocyte antigens (HLA) that develop in the blood of women who have had babies. These antibodies can be passed on to patients through plasma transfusions. 

Since April 1, AABB has mandated that “plasma and whole blood for allogeneic transfusion shall be from males, females who have not been pregnant, or females who have been tested since their most recent pregnancy, and results are interpreted as negative for HLA antibodies.”

LifeSouth’s goal is to have a four-week supply of AB plasma available for patients, but some locations have little or no AB plasma in inventory. LifeSouth’s donor questionnaire now will include the question, “Have you ever given birth?” Female AB donors who answer no will be able to provide plasma to help with the shortage.

Many blood centers, including LifeSouth, are working toward implementing screening procedures to allow the use of plasma from female donors with low risk of having HLA antibodies.

The restriction on male-only plasma for transfusions has been in place for Type A, Type B and Type O plasma since 2007. The change for Type AB was delayed because of its importance in emergencies, and it is less prevalent in the donor population.

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