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CHICAGO — Illinoisans who step up to give the gift of life and donate blood right now could very well learn something new about their own health. The American Red Cross started offering COVID-19 antibody tests in select areas in June to try to pinpoint the number of people who have been exposed to the virus.
Joy Squier – chief communications officer with the Illinois Red Cross – said now, all blood donations are being tested for antibodies as part of their standard testing procedures for infectious diseases.
“Antibody testing could indicate if somebody had been exposed,” said Squier. “It doesn’t necessarily indicate infection or immunity – just maybe, at some point in time, if you were exposed.”
She said test results are available in about seven to ten days, and notes that offering antibody tests might also help increase the blood supply.
A study of donations during the summer found that first-time donors increased from 11% to 17% after antibody testing was offered, and that about 2% of donations tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.
Squier said the Red Cross needs people who have fully recovered from a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis to come in and donate.
“Your red blood cells could be sent to a hospital, your platelets, your plasma,” said Squier. “And the plasma could be used in terms of convalescent plasma, which is plasma that can help people who are struggling with COVID recover.”
The Red Cross collects about 40% of the nation’s blood supply, and Squier said it took a big hit when the novel coronavirus outbreak started.
“Schools closed, businesses closed, and that was where so many blood drives had happened,” said Squier. “And so, we had to retool and have blood drives in different locations – because surgeries continue, people with diseases like leukemia, chronic conditions like sickle cell; accident victims need blood.”
Reporting by Mary Schuermann Kuhlman
Illinois News Connection, a service of Public News Service, covers a broad range of issues with a focus on social services, growth, health care, environmental issues and state government. This coverage is made possible by funding from grants and contributions from individuals, non-profit and non-governmental organizations and foundations with an interest in seeing more news coverage on these and other subjects.
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