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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Military officials preparing for a potential war with Iraq have been hit with a blow where it really hurts — in the blood bank.

Medical officials in Europe have quarantined about 20 percent of its frozen blood supply following a warning from the American Association of Blood Banks that the blood could be contaminated by the West Nile virus.

The group recommended the withdrawal of blood collected from states affected by epidemic outbreaks of the virus in 2002. The disease can be passed through blood transfers, and contracting the virus can be fatal, medical officials said.

Officials said servicemembers do not have to worry about the blood they could be receiving.

“The blood supply in Europe is safe,” said Army Maj. Ken Pell Jr., the U.S. European Command joint blood program officer. “We are withdrawing the blood as a safety measure to prevent any potential blood contamination.”

Military officials are eager to replace the blood quickly because of the prospect of war with Iraq, said Army Col. Michael Fitzpatrick, the Armed Services Blood Program Office director, in a recent press release about the shortage. The military has begun a buildup of U.S. forces from European and stateside bases in the Persian Gulf region.

Replacing the potentially contaminated blood is definitely a priority in Europe, Pell said. “The timing on it was a little tough, coming on the end of the holidays,” he said.

However, military blood banks overseas get priority on replacement because the banks are considered forward deployed, Pell said.

The European blood program receives between 50 percent and 70 percent of its blood from the United States, Pell said, and the U.S. Army Europe Blood Donor Center at Landstuhl, Germany, expects a shipment of blood from the States soon.

“The affected blood supply could be replaced within days,” he said.

The military blood supply in Europe is critical to present and future war efforts in the Gulf region, said Marie Shaw, spokeswoman for the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Germany.

U.S. Central Command, with servicemembers in place around the Gulf region, sends soldiers to the U.S. European Command for medical treatment, Shaw said. “We’re already treating patients from Operation Enduring Freedom,” she said.

“Since the beginning [of Enduring Freedom], we’ve treated over 1,300 patients from the operation, and we’re still seeing people almost every day.”

The medical center treats most of the seriously injured servicemembers from Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and most of Africa.

The donor center, the major collection and storage point for blood in the European command, also is at the medical center.

The European command collects about 4,000 pints of blood and uses 700 to 1,000 pints annually, Pell said.

While medical officials receive blood from the States, people stationed in Europe can still help, Pell said. The command has plans to increase blood drives soon, and are encouraging people to show up and donate. “This will take the strain off our requirements,” he said.

Blood donations in Europe have been limited by restrictions on donors caused by past outbreaks of mad cow disease, but medical officials have compensated for the shortage and it is no longer an issue.

People interested in sponsoring blood drives or donating blood should contact Bob Kirzner, the donor center’s recruiter at DSN 486-6497 or (+49) 6371-86-6497, Pell said. Kirzner also provides information on local blood drives.

Beginning Feb. 1, the donor center, located in Building 3738 at the medical center, opens up for walk-in donations so people in the Kaiserslautern military community may participate regularly, Pell said.


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