Research

Establishing local reference intervals for full blood count and white blood cell differential counts in Cape Town, South Africa

A de Koker, A R Bird, C Swart, J J Rogerson, C Hilton, J J Opie

Abstract


Background. Accurate laboratory reference intervals (RIs) are essential to differentiate between health and disease. There are variations in haematological indices within populations relating to gender, age, ethnicity and environment. Iron deficiency is common, has a wide range of clinical morbidities and affects red cell indices. Locally derived RIs for full blood count (FBC) parameters are needed for the Western Cape region of South Africa, after the exclusion of iron deficiency. In addition, information regarding the prevalence of iron deficiency in first-time blood donors would inform blood transfusion services regarding policies to screen for and treat iron deficiency.

Objectives. To establish locally derived RIs for FBC and white blood cell (WBC) differential count parameters in healthy adults in the Cape Town area, by including first-time blood donors and excluding those with iron deficiency and thalassaemic indices. These new locally established RIs could update those in use by the local National Health Laboratory Service. A secondary objective was to establish the prevalence of iron deficiency in first-time blood donors. This would inform blood donation policies regarding screening and appropriate iron supplementation in high-risk groups prior to blood donation.

Methods. This was a prospective, descriptive study with direct convenience sampling. Participants were prospective voluntary blood donors aged between 18 and 60 years, presenting for first-time blood donation. Ethnicity was self-identified. Participants who tested positive for HIV or hepatitis B and/or C viruses were excluded. Prospective participants with iron deficiency, defined by serum ferritin levels below the RI, and those with red cell indices suggestive of an underlying thalassaemia trait were excluded. FBC samples were analysed using a Sysmex XN-1000 cell counter. Statistical non-parametric methods were used to calculate the RIs, according to international guidelines.

Results. Of the 774 participants screened, 82 (11%) had iron deficiency and were excluded. Six hundred and sixty-two patients were included for analysis, 409 (62%) female and 253 (38%) male. The majority of the participants, 348 (53%), were between 20 and 29 years of age, with a mean age of 29 years for females and 28 years for males. Participants comprised a mix of the various ethnic groups residing in Western Cape Province. The mean haemoglobin concentration for females was lower than that for males (p<0.0001). There were significant gender differences for total WBC count, absolute neutrophil count and platelet count, with females having higher counts than males.

Conclusions. Locally established, population-specific RIs are essential for the accurate interpretation of haematological indices. This study established locally derived gender-specific RIs for the Cape Town region, after exclusion of iron deficiency. These new RIs have implications for the accurate diagnoses of cytopenias, cytoses and other blood count abnormalities. Iron deficiency is common in first-time blood donors, and screening for iron deficiency using point-of-care testing should be considered.


Authors' affiliations

A de Koker, Division of Haematology, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa; National Health Laboratory Service, Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

A R Bird, Western Cape Blood Service, Cape Town, South Africa

C Swart, Division of Haematology, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa; National Health Laboratory Service, Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

J J Rogerson, Faculty of Science, University of Cape Town, South Africa

C Hilton, Western Cape Blood Service, Cape Town, South Africa

J J Opie, Division of Haematology, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa; National Health Laboratory Service, Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

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Keywords

Reference intervals; Full blood count; Reference ranges; Anaemia; Iron deficiency, White blood cell differential count; South Africa

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2021;111(4):327-332. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2021.v111i4.15313

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-03-31
Date published: 2021-03-31

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