Background: Bacterial contamination remains a significant problem in transfusion medicine. A National Health Service Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) study and surveillance data indicated skin commensals derived from the skin of the donor are the major contaminants of blood components. NHSBT therefore explored two interventions: improved donor arm disinfection and diversion. Methods: Improved donor arm disinfection: Commercial and in-house methods of disinfection were evaluated. Swabs at the venepuncture site were taken before and after disinfection and the reduction in bioburden determined. Diversion: Special collection bags were manufactured to allow the initial volume of blood to flow into a pouch, representing the diversion pouch and then the next flow of blood into another pouch representing the collection bag. Pouches were screened for the presence of bacteria. The reduction in bacterial contamination was then determined. Results: A two-step commercial procedure (Donor Prep Kit; DPK) consisting of 70% isopropyl alcohol followed by tincture of iodine was shown to be a best practice procedure (2-min procedure). A 99.79% reduction was obtained, and this method was 10 times more effective than current practice at that time. The DPK was shown in a field trial to increase donor waiting time. A second study was initiated to find a more rapid procedure. ChloraPrep®, consisting of 2% chlorhexidine gluconate and 70% isopropyl alcohol, was shown to have equivalent disinfection efficiency as the DPK, but only took 1 min to perform. In 2006, ChloraPrep was introduced as the national method of donor arm disinfection. Diversion was shown to give a 47% reduction in contamination and was introduced nationally in 2002. Conclusion: Improved donor arm disinfection and diversion are effective, low-cost interventions, but do not eliminate all bacterial transmissions. In 2011, bacterial screening of platelet components was introduced by NHSBT to further increase the safety of the blood supply.

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