Blood Transfusions

Why might your child need a blood transfusion?

Most children cope well with losing a moderate amount of blood; the lost fluid can be replaced with other fluids. Over the next few weeks the body makes new red blood cells to
replace those that are lost.

If larger amounts of blood are lost, a transfusion is the best way of replacing the blood rapidly.

Blood transfusions may be given to replace blood lost in surgery, or after serious accidents or
they may be used to treat anaemia (lack of red blood cells) caused by failure of the body to make enough suitable blood cells.

Some medical treatments or operations cannot be safely carried out without giving any blood.

Can I donate my blood for my child?

No. This is a common question but there are good reasons why this is not done. There is an increased risk of some types of serious reactions following blood transfusion from relatives. Unless blood from a close relative is specially treated with X-rays there is a risk that the transfused blood can trick the child’s immune system and bone marrow, resulting in bone marrow failure. It is better to avoid this risk.

Are blood transfusions safe?

Yes, the risk that a blood transfusion will make your child ill is very low. One of the most important ways of ensuring a safe transfusion is to make sure your child gets the right blood. To ensure that your child receives the correct blood, staff will check your child’s identity, both when they take blood samples and, along with the bag of blood, before the transfusion is given. This is why it is important that your child wears an identification band. If you are with your child, you may also be asked to confirm their full name and date of birth. Please remind the nurse or doctor to ask you this if they do not do so. Compared to other everyday risks, the likelihood of getting an infection from a blood transfusion is very low. Blood donors are very carefully selected, and the donated blood is tested to make sure that it is suitable for transfusion. The risk of getting hepatitis from a blood transfusion in the UK is about 1 in 670,000 for hepatitis B and 1 in 83 million for Hepatitis C (published January 2011). The chance of getting HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection is about 1 in 5 million or HTLV (Human T-Lymphotropic Virus) infection is about 1 in 18 million. Although the risk of getting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) from a blood transfusion is probably low with a single blood transfusion, the risk of any infection will increase with additional blood transfusions. Each year, approximately 2.5 million units of blood are transfused in the United Kingdom and there have been just a handful of cases where patients are known to have become infected with vCJD from
a blood transfusion.

How is blood given?

A blood transfusion is usually given through a tiny tube directly into a vein. The amount of time each transfusion takes will depend on a variety of factors; your child’s doctor or nurse will be able to tell you more about this. Your child may be given more than one bag of blood as part of their treatment.

How will my child feel during their blood transfusion?

Most children feel no different at all during their transfusion. However, some develop a slight fever, chills or a rash. These are usually due to a mild reaction or allergy and are easily treated with medication or by giving the blood more slowly. Your child will be carefully monitored before, during and after the transfusion. Fortunately, severe reactions to blood are extremely rare. If they do occur, staff are trained to recognise and treat them. If your child feels unwell during or after their blood transfusion, please inform the nurse immediately.