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Feb. 17, 2021

Spartans and Wolverines compete in ‘Blood Battle’

Blood donations are typically down in the winter, but this winter the situation has become critical. COVID-19 has forced the country into a shortage of certain blood products.


That’s why Spartans and Wolverines have entered into a friendly Winter Blood Battle to help increase the supply of blood and plasma.


“The need for blood is constant so what better way to motivate fellow Spartans to give the gift of life than to compete against our arch rival the University of Michigan,” said Tony Gerheiser, account manager with American Red Cross Blood Services. “Competition always motivates people, let’s use this motivation to help save lives.”


The Winter Blood Battle has taken place for 10 years, but this year the pandemic has added to the competition in a new way.


“To date, Spartans have donated 520 units of blood with a goal of 900 units by the end of the competition,” Gerheiser said. “We are slightly behind U of M, which has collected 595 units and has eight blood drives left. We have 11 drives scheduled so we hope to end the challenge with a Spartan win.”


Upcoming off-campus blood drives are on Feb. 18, 19 and 22 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Peoples Church, 200 W. Grand River Ave., and on Feb. 25 and 26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the MSU Union. Staff will be giving retro-style Michigan State shirts and sunglasses to donors as a thank you. To sign up, see the Red Cross Blood Donation page and use sponsor code GoGreen.


The MSU Blood Drives are being organized by the Students from Graduate Epidemiologists and Biostatisticians at Michigan State, or GEMS, in collaboration with the Red Cross.


“As epidemiology and biostatistics students, we’re training to be future public health professionals, so there is no better time to lead than during a pandemic,” said Alyssa Vanderziel, co-president of GEMS, and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at MSU’s College of Human Medicine.


According to the Red Cross, it must collect 13,000 donations a day for the hospitals and patients it serves nationwide. But 80% of blood donations are made at drives hosted by community organizations, schools and businesses, which continue to be canceled because of the pandemic.


“Health emergencies happen every single day and don’t pause just because we’re in a pandemic,” Gerheiser said. “Blood is needed every two seconds in the U.S. to help patients battle injury and illness. And as COVID-19 cases have risen across the U.S., so has the need for convalescent plasma, a potentially lifesaving blood product.”

The use of antibody-rich convalescent plasma extracted from blood to treat or prevent serious infections has been part of medical practice for more than 100 years, said Nigel Paneth, one of seven leaders of the National COVID-19 National Convalescent Plasma Project and professor of epidemiology, biostatistics and pediatrics at MSU’s College of Human Medicine.


“Convalescent plasma was a common treatment for bacterial infections before the discovery of antibiotics,” Paneth said. “More recently, other infectious diseases such as H1N1 influenza, SARS and MERS have been treated with convalescent plasma with varying results, but we find that convalescent plasma is quite effective in COVID-19 disease.”


On August 23, 2020, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for COVID-19 convalescent plasma for the treatment of hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Paneth said research just published in the New England Journal of Medicine further confirms that convalescent plasma is an effective treatment for COVID-19 when administered correctly.


“Our latest research shows that risk of death by COVID-19 is reduced by one-third when convalescent plasma rich in antibodies is administered early in the course of disease, before a person needs a ventilator,” Paneth said. “If I were to be hospitalized with COVID-19, I would certainly ask for convalescent plasma. And I encourage everyone who has recovered from the virus to please donate to help others desperately in need.”


Gerheiser said that two ways people can help is through a convalescent plasma donation, if you’ve recovered from COVID-19, or by simply giving whole blood, which is now tested for COVID-19 antibodies.


Donors will need to complete a health screening form before coming to campus and also wear a mask. This is part of MSU’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 by directing everyone to take personal responsibility to protect their own health and safety as well as the health and safety of others.


By: Kim Ward and Zach Richardson

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