The Red Cross is offering a new blood-recycling technique to area hospitals, eliminating the need for transfusion in certain surgeries.

The technique, intraoperative autologous transfusion (IAT), has been used at some large hospitals for years and was first tried in connection with obstetrics cases in the 1800s.

Today, the technique can be used in a number of specialties, primarily heart surgery and orthopedics. A new Red Cross mobile unit has begun traveling to smaller hospitals, permitting them to offer blood recycling without buying the $20,000 machine. The first such operation was performed at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda over the summer. The fifth was performed yesterday at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Va.

Hospitals are charged $400 per operation for the service. If two units of blood are recycled, the technique pays for itself, a Red Cross spokeswoman said.

Interest in avoiding transfusions has been increasing since the AIDS epidemic began in 1981. According to a federal count, 959 cases of AIDS have been transmitted by blood transfusion, almost all of them before 1985, when a blood screening test became available. Last week, concern increased again when a study found that it could take more than a year for evidence of infection to appear on the test currently in use.

Still, the chances of contracting AIDS from donated blood are minute, with an estimated 1 in 250,000 donated units contaminated. Other infections, such as hepatitis, are more common.

Another way to avoid receiving a transfusion is to donate blood before elective surgery, an autologous transfusion.