An Unknown Life Saver

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Platelet donation is less taxing than blood donation but just as critical

Decreased platelets due to dengue means reduced ability to fight
against infection | Credit: Indian News & Times

Of the 9,374 cases of dengue reported in Karnataka this year, Bangalore accounts for as many as 5,832. One of the definitive symptoms of dengue is a drastic fall in platelet count (from a normal 1,50,000-4,50,000 to 50,000/ml). Platelets, also called thrombocytes, are one of the components of human blood indispensable for initiating the process of blood clotting.

Unless the patient receives an immediate platelet transfusion, she could suffer uncontrollable internal bleeding and die. Though not all dengue cases need an immediate platelet transfusion, most dengue patients in the ICU require one as soon as possible.

This, in turn, leads to unexpected surges in demand for platelet donors. But they’re not readily available even in urban centres like Bangalore. The lack of public awareness is costing dengue patients their lives.

Says Manjunatha Reddy H.R, secretary of Swami Vivekanada Voluntary Blood Bank located in SR Nagar in Bengaluru, “In a month, we get around 400-500 blood donations out of which 95% are voluntary and the remaining are need-based. On the other hand, for platelets, we get 20 to 30 donations which are only need-based as they cannot be stored for a long time.”

The irony is that blood, which can be donated only once in three months, has a donor base much larger than platelets, which can be donated twice a month. But blood has a longer shelf-life of 42 days than platelets, which have shelf life of only 5 days. Hence there is a greater need for platelet donors.

Platelet donation is not as well-known as blood or organ donations. Even many regular blood donors are ignorant of the procedure for platelet donation. But the process is really not complicated and is less demanding. The beauty of the procedure of Single Donor Platelet (SDP) donation lies in the fact that the Apheresis machine separates the platelet component of the blood and the blood is returned to the donor’s body.

Unlike a whole blood donation, SDP donation is assisted by a cell separator, an electronic apparatus that processes blood. The whole blood is drawn directly from the donor’s veins, centrifugated to extract a specific blood component (platelet, plasma, etc.), and the remaining portions of the blood are returned to the donor’s body. This process is called Apheresis.

The platelets harvested from the donors are stored at room temperature (20º to 24ºC)for up to five days with continuous agitation to facilitate gas exchange and prevent platelet aggregation.

Says, Karthik Muralidharan, a motivational speaker who has been an SDP donor since 2016, “Excepting the needle prick, I feel no other pain during or post donation. And the very fact that an effort as trivial as this can bring someone back to life is quite overwhelming.”

Low platelet count can also be the consequence of treatment such as chemotherapy, vitamin deficiencies, leukaemia and so on. According to the study entitled Estimation of blood requirement in India, published by National Aids Control Organisation, low platelet count was the second most common condition after anaemia in pregnant Indian women.

As ever in India, awareness of the most rudimentary health and safety procedures can save thousands of avoidable fatalities. With the increasing frequency of dengue outbreaks across the country, a campaign to encourage platelet donation is a good starting point.

shoby.k@iijnm.org

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