Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Blood Simple

It's a small, simple article. Still, it's hard to know what to make of Carmen Paige's Pensacola News Journal report on Wednesday that "your blood donation will not be accepted right now at the Northwest Florida Blood Center" if you've had anything to eat or drink in New Orleans "in recent months."

She explains:
Health officials are taking the precaution because of flooding that inundated the city after its levees gave way after Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29. Those floodwaters contained a toxic stew of sewage, decomposing bodies, chemicals and other harmful substances.

* * *
Potential donors will have to wait a minimum of two months before they can give blood. The local blood center already has deferred contributions from 40 people who have traveled to New Orleans.

The blood center will follow this policy for at least three more months, Picardi said.
Ms. Paige then serves up for proof a couple of quotes, attributed to Dr. Jim Picardi who is identified as medical director of the Northwest Florida Blood Center. Taken separately, each quotation is indubitably true. But do they really support Ms. Paige's lede -- or the apparently newly announced policy of the blood center?

First quote: "America's Blood Centers sent a warning around that people who had evacuated from New Orleans could be carrying infectious diseases particularly vibrio, associated with the disaster they'd had."

Can't argue with that. But on its face doesn't it read more like some post-Katrina alert that would have been circulated to medical personnel three months ago rather than a new alert to guardians of the blood supply?

Second quote:"The water in New Orleans has always had organisms called vibrio that cause cholera and cholera-like illnesses and could result in diarrhea, fever and severe dehydration."

As a historical statement of how New Orleans water "has always" been, you really can't argue with this one, either. Surely it's true. Again, however, we ask does this explain why all of a sudden -- now -- there's some newly announced concern about all blood donors who have any past connection with New Orleans?

It's hard to see. It's also hard to google any other blood center in America with the same concerns.

Apparently, it's also a mystery for Kathleen Devore-Jones, county health administrator for neigboring Santa Rosa County. The article ends with her words: "Our volunteers have been asked questions like what things they have been exposed to. I feel sure they are not at risk for developing symptoms because it's been months now."

Maybe there's a public health expert out there who can shed light on why now, and why only Pensacola? Or, should we instead be asking a journalism expert what's really going on here?

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