VBS Source of Tainted Blood

Several reports indicate that that death and illness has resulted from tainted blood provided by Virginia Blood Services. This news comes from a radio report in Fredericksburg and a story on NBC 12 in Richmond, each saying that one death and two illnesses have been traced to bacteria-laden blood originating from Virginia Blood Services. Reportedly, VBS has cancelled all drives and ordered hospitals to stop using their blood and blood products. The Red Cross confirmed via telephone that they are still accepting and providing blood, presumably unaffected by the contamination.

12 thoughts on “VBS Source of Tainted Blood”

  1. Just a reminder that readers who had planned to give blood through Virginia Blood Services can still donate through the Red Cross. To schedule a donation at their collection center or find out about a blood drive, call (434) 295-5433.

    You can also check blood drive schedules online at


    I would urge anyone who normally gives only to VBS to make the switch to the Red Cross at least temporarily, as there is no telling how long VBS’ supply will remain under quarantine. Hospitals will still need blood.

  2. Disclosure: I work for American Red Cross

    Virginia Blood Services and American Red Cross are separate entities. In the blood business you have the ARC and area blood banks that provide blood. Hospitals have contracts with different blood services to supply their blood products. The ARC currently does not provide to UVA or MJ Hospitals except when rare blood types are needed or an emergency blood situation arises. Please remember that our labs, facilities, etc. are all entirely separate. People often confuse us with each other.

  3. Thanks, Trisha. A lot of folks don’t know this; it’s always been the only reason I give to VBS instead of the Red Cross. Do you know if the local ARC is going to supply UVa and MJH during this recall? Seems to me that such would qualify as an "emergency blood situation".

    What really freaks me out about this report is not that the blood supply is tainted (alarming enough) but that neither the hospital nor VBS appears to have any idea what the heck this bacteria is. Yikes!

  4. Unfortunately I haven’t been provided with any supply info. It probably depends on how long it looks like it will take to find out what happened. The reports seem to indicate that VBS is trying to identify very quickly where the problem originated. The FDA requires very strict tracking of every step of the donation and processing of a unit of blood. So for VBS it’s a matter of going back over the records for the identified contaminated units to see if they’re all from a single lot. For instance, if they can identify that they were all handled by a particular lab tech, or were from the same blood drive, etc. It is indeed very scary to not know what kind of bacteria it is yet, because knowing would at least provide some clues as to how serious (rather, how much more serious) the whole thing is. I only hope that it doesn’t stop people from donating and that VBS can get back on their feet soon. This can be a terrible blow to a blood supply that regionally isn’t doing so hot. There are still folks afraid to donate because they think they’ll get HIV. Let’s hope this doesn’t scare the bejeesus out of everyone!

  5. BTW, I’m not a mouthpiece for the Red Cross. I’m just an employee (one of hundreds) that probably shouldn’t even be talking about any of this. But hey, it’s meta-news! ;)

  6. What you’ve said is comforting. It would be more scary if we DIDNT hear this news, and the bacteria wasn’t identified and tracked down. What we’re seing is the system working properly.

    Yes, people got sick, people died. But when you need a blood transfusion, you’re typically already dead and in the process of being saved by modern medicine. Nobody wanders into their doctor and gets an unknown killer blood bacteria for a runny nose.

    Continue to give blood. There is NO WAY to contract a disease from the sterile new equipment they use each time. I’m not a doctor, or a nurse, nor do I play one on TV, but I can figure that much out.

  7. From WINA’s website this morning:

    "Virginia Blood Services has lifted the quarantine it imposed on some of its blood units. The quarantine was briefly in effect after a surgery patient died at the University of Virginia Hospital. Two other people, one of them a U-V-A patient, came down with fevers after recent transfusions from the same supply. The organization declared last night there is NO evidence of any contamination in the blood supply. Robert Carden of Virginia Blood Services says we may never know what caused the September 27th death of the 53 year old patient. Virginia Blood Services has a contract to supply the U-V-A & Martha Jefferson Hospitals."

    What’s missing from this article is any confirmation from a doctor or hospital source that what VBS says is true….

  8. There is a very weird article in the Times-Dispatch that seems to contradict itself. Apparently VBS says they have no evidence that the contamination came from them rather than the hospital. This is strange, because in the same article it is related that all 3 contaminated units came from the same donor, and that the transfusion bag was found to be tainted. According to the article, the representative they interviewed from UVA is not satisfied with their explanation of what happened. Meanwhile, it was determined that the remaining quarantined blood was safe for use. Everything seems to be back to normal, but there are a lot of unanswered questions. It’s the tainted transfusion bag that bothers me. If it all originated from one donor and the blood was broken into 3 recalled components, as reported, how can the only trace of contamination found be in only one bag? How could the hospital be the source of contamination when it was present at 2 separate hospitals all from the same donor? VBS stated that we must keep in mind that the recipient that died had a compromised immune system and that another person might not have suffered so severely (died). That’s fine, but how can anyone possibly presume to know what the state of a future recipient’s immune system will be? It should be assumed that blood is going to the ill. That’s why there are so many safety standards in place. I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic or anything. I do feel bad for them in their situation. All blood services are always under intense scrutiny with for a very good reason- the public’s health.


  9. Virginia Blood Services has a history of lying to the public.

    They have lied about the Red Cross in order to keep people from donating there. Remember when they advertised that all Red Cross blood collected locally was shipped out of state? It just wasn’t true. The Red Cross has a charter that requires them to distribute blood fairly and to the needy, which sometimes means shipping blood to other areas. But they were hardly ignoring Virginia.

    VBS drive coordinators have posed as Red Cross donors in order to obtain Red Cross literature rather than have their own materials printed.

    In order to take large hospital contracts away from other blood providers, VBS has sold blood at prices below the cost of safe processing. The ethics of this practice are questionable in the first place. Now we have to ask the question of whether the practice may have led to cutting corners in order to keep the blood flowing at a bargain basement price.

    VBS has a lot to answer for.

  10. I’d take anything on WINA regarding VBS with a grain of salt. Brad Eure is on their board, and he’s apparently rabidly anti-Red Cross. I recall an article in c-ville where he (or a WINA rep, I’m not sure) stated they wouldn’t even run PSAs for Red Cross blood drives.

    Expect WINA to give this story only the most positive spin.

  11. I seem to recall last September following the attacks that VBS did set up extra blood drives and implied that the donations would go to the 9-11 victims, when in fact any donations they received went into their regular pipeline.

    When VBS stole the UVA contract from the Red Cross, there were a lot of angry people. They definitely undersold ARC. Maybe ARC was overpriced – I don’t know.

    I do know that where I work, we have 6 blood drives per year, 3 with VBS, and 3 with ARC. The VBS blood drives typicall attract 15 or so doners, while the Red Cross drives typically attract 50-60.

    Personally, the "local use" pitch doesn’t work with me. I donate cconsistently, and I don’t care WHERE it goes. If it’s needed locally, great. If it’s needed in Norfolk, cool. If it’s needed in a military hospital in Afghanistan, glad to help. You gotta figure that the Red Cross, with their network and experience, are going to make sure the blood gets where it’s needed.

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