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Blood transfusion is complicated: Know the risks involved

Covid-19 doesn’t spread through blood transfusions

Ever wondered what will happen to you if you are given a wrong type of blood? Read on to know the damaging effects of incorrect blood type transfusion.

Written by Paras Hemrajani |Published : November 28, 2019 7:46 PM IST

Blood transfusion is a tricky business. Transfusion with wrong blood type is rare. But it has happened before and can happen again. To understand how it feels to have a wrong type of blood running through your bloodstream, you first have to understand how blood type and transfusion works. A person's blood type is determined by his red blood cells. When a baby is born, doctors analyse his red blood cell properties and determine the blood type from A, B and O. Exceptions to this is the AB type, where the RBC shows properties of both A and B types.

What happens when you get the wrong blood transfusion?

If you are given a wrong blood transfusion, you may experience fever, chills, a burning sensation at the injection site and aches all over. This response is caused because your immune system detects a mismatch in the blood and attacks the white blood cells that came in with the new blood. Aside from fever, dark purple spots (purpura) will appear on your skin. This is because the platelets in the donor blood are broken down by the host body.

These reactions are mild and may be mistaken as a reaction to transfusion. Of all the components that have entered the host body, red blood cells are always the first to cause destruction as they are the prime carries of blood type.

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How foreign red blood cells cause complications

Our immune system is trained to split (hemolysis) the foreign red blood cells in the liver and mix it with other waste material that is waiting to be flushed out. Problem arises when your immune system fails to do this or doesn't wait for the donor red blood cells to clear blood vessels and starts breaking the foreign red blood cells down in the blood vessels, spilling its content in the blood vessels.

The first content to enter the blood stream is haemoglobin, which mixes with the plasma in the host body and turns urine colour from yellow to dark brown. Another component in RBC is bilirubin, which gives our stool its colour. When bilirubin gets split in the bloodstream, it changes our whole body to yellow. The rest of the components send out signals to host protein cells. Platelets spilled in bloodstream can trigger blood clots in the veins, which could lead to death.

What can be done?

To avoid this, doctors have now started separating components from the donor blood and deploying them one by one. Separating white blood cells from donor blood is done through a process called leukodepletion. The other obvious thing that could be done to avoid this situation is to make hospital staff more careful. Rather than asking what the person's blood type is, checking them before transfusion should be made compulsory. Making people aware about their blood type could also help in removing misinformation. Proper medical infrastructure should be provided to blood transfusion teams and facilities.

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