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Health Highlights: July 31, 2012

U.S. Blood Supply Critically Low, Red Cross Warns Devices Not Enough to Save Children Left in Overheated Cars: Report

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

U.S. Blood Supply Critically Low, Red Cross Warns

The level of U.S. blood donations is at its lowest point in 15 years and the shortfall is such that some patients may have to have elective surgeries canceled, the American Red Cross reports.

"People will put off having knee replacements, hip replacements and other elective surgery," Danny Cervantes, a donor recruitment director for United Blood Services in Las Vegas, told NBC News.

The shortfall appears due to a number of factors. Kim Talkington, regional director of donor recruitment for the Red Cross in Wichita, Kan., told NBC News that there's a high demand for blood in summer because it's high season for travel and road accidents.

On the donor side, the supply from college students -- who typically make up about one-fifth of donations -- falls by about half in the summer months, according to Quincy, Ill., donor recruitment representative Beth Forbes.

This summer has been especially tough for the blood supply because storms have upped demand in the East and Midwest, even as they helped dry up the supply, according to Rodney Wilson, another Red Cross representative based in Ohio.

"The power outages and storms we experienced earlier in the month caused dozens of blood drives to be canceled," Wilson told NBC News. "We normally try to keep a three-day supply on hand locally, and we are down to a one-day supply."


Devices Not Enough to Save Children Left in Overheated Cars: Report

Devices aimed at preventing kids from dying in overheated cars may not work well enough to keep children from harm, a new review finds.

Parents shouldn't rely on special seats and other devices to stop them from accidently leaving children in cars, David Strickland, administrator for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said in a Monday press briefing, NBC News reported.

"While these devices are very well-intended, none of them are a full or complete solution for making sure a parent never leaves a baby behind in a hot car," Strickland said.

According to NHTSA, about 38 children die each year of heat stroke after being left in cars. The new report reviewed 18 commercial products, including pads that sense if a child is in a car seat; devices that can tell if a seatbelt is buckled and alarms that remind parents to check.

"The devices were inconsistent and unreliable in their performance," the researchers wrote in their report. "They often required adjusting of the position of the child within the child restraint, the distance to activation varied across trials and scenarios, and they experienced continual synching/unsynching during use."

The report also notes that "devices which integrate into a child restraint would not be applicable in scenarios where the child is playing and gets locked in the vehicle (30 percent of fatalities) or in a scenario where the parent/caregiver intentionally leaves the child in the vehicle (17 percent of fatalities)."

According to Strickland, parents can help ensure tragic heat stroke accidents in cars don't happen by using a few simple precautions. These include leaving a child's toy in the front seat as a reminder, putting a purse or briefcase in back seat so that the driver is forced to look in the back before exiting the car, or setting an alarm on the cellphone to remind yourself to check on a child's whereabouts.


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