Hurricane Irene has affected blood donations along the East Coast at a time when the nation’s blood supply is already low, according to the Red Cross.

Since Hurricane Irene began its path along the East Coast, the storm has forced the cancellation of nearly 60 American Red Cross blood drives, resulting in the shortfall of more than 1,500 units of blood and the numbers could increase this week while areas deal with the storm’s aftermath.

For those areas not heavily impacted by the storm, the Red Cross is urging immediate blood and platelet donations and asks that community members consider donating blood in affected areas, once it is safe to do so. Blood has a limited shelf life and platelets have a shelf-life of just five days.

“It is imperative that we are always prepared with enough blood on hand to meet the needs of patients,” stated Donna M. Morrissey, director of communications, American Red Cross – Northeast Division, in a press release. “We encourage all those who are eligible to help make up the shortfall caused by Hurricane Irene. It’s the blood that is already on the shelves that helps save lives before, during and after a disaster.”

The Red Cross is still working to stabilize the blood supply after summer shortages and with a holiday weekend approaching, the need continues.

Across the country, blood centers are struggling to keep pace with demand. Nationwide, around 44,000 blood donations are needed every day to meet the needs of accident victims, cancer patients, and children with blood disorders. These patients and others rely on blood products during their treatment.

When disaster strikes, this need does not diminish, even though blood donors may find it difficult or impossible to get to a convenient donation opportunity. If collections are negatively impacted by a disaster, the long-term needs of these patients could also be affected.

To schedule an appointment to donate blood or platelets, visit redcrossblood.org, or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families.

The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, visit redcross.org

The American Red Cross Blood Services – Northeast Division must distribute approximately 3,000 units of blood each day just to meet the basic needs of area patients. Individuals who are at least 17 years of age (16 with parental permission in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood.

High school students and donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements. Donors are asked to bring their Red Cross blood donor card or other form of positive ID when they come to donate.