Your child may need one a blood or platelet transfusion several days after a round of chemotherapy.
Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. Platelets control clotting. If the body does not have enough of these cells, life threatening anaemia or bleeding can develop. Chemotherapy can cause blood and platelet counts to fall dramatically. A transfusions replenishes these cells until the body can begin making them on its own again.
Blood and platelets are donated by healthy people to help others. They are stored in a blood bank at the hospital and units are ordered by the doctor when your child needs them.
Packed red blood cells and platelets are given via an IV or central line if your child has one. One IV bag is called a “unit”.
One unit of red blood cells is 1 pint (roughly ½ a litre), donated by one person. The infusion takes 1-2 hours per unit.
More than one unit may be needed, but you should notice a significant difference In your child’s energy and complexion by the end of the transfusion.
One unit of platelets is donated either by one person through a process called apheresis, or collected from blood donated by 3-6 people.
Platelets collected through an apheresis machine are called ‘apheresed platelets’. They can reduce the risk of reactions during transfusion.
One unit of platelets contains 100ml of yellow fluid. The infusion takes 20-30 minutes per unit.
More than one unit may be needed, but one will usually stop bleeding or severe bruising.
Before each blood transfusion, your child’s blood will be cross-matched to confirm it is compatible with the donated blood. This minimises the risk of a reaction during transfusion.
Occasionally, transfusions cause reactions. Your child’s temperature, pulse and blood pressure will be carefully monitored to check for early signs of a reaction.
Common reactions are headache, a slight temperature rise or skin rash.
Your child may be given an antihistamine such a Benadryl before the transfusion, to prevent a reaction or reduce its effects.
Severe reactions are rare due to cross-matching. Tell the nurse immediately if your child develops a fever, chills, sweating or severe skin rash, so the transfusion can be stopped.
Many parents worry about infection risks with blood and platelet transfusions. With careful screening of donors and rigorous precautions at the blood bank, the risk of transmitting infections and viruses is very small.
Around the world, blood products are screened through many different processes. Ask your doctor or nurse to explain the infection risks, and the precautions taken by the blood bank.
The biggest concerns with blood and platelet transfusions are hepatitis and HIV. In Europe and North America, risk of HIV transmission is less than 1 in 500,000. Hepatitis exposure happens in less than 1 in 5,000 transfusions.
Very low blood and platelet counts cause life-threatening complications. The risk to your child without a transfusion is far higher than the remote risk of a transmitted infection or virus.
If you have any concerns, discuss them with your child’s doctor or nurse.