FARMINGTON — For area hospitals one commodity is almost always in high demand — blood.

Although people can donate blood at any time of the year, officials say that supply can drop during the winter months. January has been designated as National Blood Donor Month since 1970, and it seems that now is as good a time as any to donate blood.

"Currently there are no shortages, but it's something that people can't be complacent about," said Charlene Smith, Marketing and Communications Director for United Blood Services New Mexico.

January is historically a hard month for blood donations.

"People get sick and there's bad weather," Smith said. "The need for blood doesn't go away."

United Blood Services provides blood to about 45 hospitals throughout the Four Corners. All blood collected is transported to Albuquerque where it is tested and approved at the organization's state center. It is then redistributed to hospitals.

"(Blood) is most critical in traumas," said Dr. Scott Otteson, a pathologist and laboratory director at San Juan Regional Medical Center. "You have to replace the red cells."

Blood products are used during surgery if there is more blood lost than anticipated, and in patients undergoing chemotherapy, Otteson said.

From one unit of whole-blood donation, medical centers can use the red cells and plasma, he said.

Blood platelets are extracted using a method called plateletpheresis and are used in a wide variety of treatments.

Platelets are blood components involved in clotting and given to patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancers. They also are used in treatments for patients with aplastic anemia, AIDS, hypersplenism, low-platelet counts, sepsis, bone marrow transplants, organ transplants and surgeries such as cardiopulmonary bypass.

Platelets are almost always in short supply because they have a shelf life of just 48 hours, Otteson said.

"In this area, platelets are always in high demand," he said.

San Juan Regional Medical Center keeps a few hundred units of blood on supply, Otteson said.

"I would say it's very important that we maintain a supply," he said. "We're one of the major trauma centers in the Four Corners."

"We go through periods of shortages where it's pretty scary," Otteson said.

About three years ago, San Juan Regional Medical Center experienced a blood shortage severe enough to put the trauma center on "diversion status," he said.

That means area trauma patients would have to be sent to other trauma centers.

"Fortunately no traumas actually came in," Otteson said. "No one had to be diverted."

Smith said she would like to see more regular donors.

About 46 percent of adults in the U.S. are eligible to donate blood, but only about five percent of those will donate, she said. And about one in three people will need blood at some point.

"The statistics are pretty staggering," she said. "If every one of those 46 percent would donate once per year, we would never have a blood shortage."