Blood Transfusions from Recovered Coronavirus Patients May Provide Effective Treatment, Doctors Say
Doctors working at separate hospitals around China recorded strikingly positive results when they treated severely ill Covid19 patients with a single dose of antibodies drawn from the blood of Covid19 survivors, The Mirror reported. Now, the FDA in the US has approved the use of convalescent plasma (CP) therapy as an experimental treatment in clinical trials and for critically ill Covid19 patients.
When someone is infected with a virus, their body’s immune system produces antibodies to fight it. Even after their recovery, these antibodies continue to linger in their system. Convalescent plasma therapy takes the antibody-rich plasma from the blood of a recovered patient and transfuses it into a person affected by the same virus.
“This study on CP therapy shows a potential therapeutic effect and low risk in the treatment of severe Covid19 patients. One dose of CP with a high concentration of neutralizing antibodies can rapidly reduce the viral load and tends to improve clinical outcomes,” the researchers who led a pilot study on convalescent plasma therapy published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded.
“Plasma therapy would offer many advantages. A coronavirus vaccine is 12 to 18 months away. Plasma is available now. The price of antiviral medications (when available) may create access issues for patients in resource-limited countries. Plasma is relatively cheap. Coronavirus tests, masks, face shields and ventilators are all scarce resources. Plasma is abundant and will only increase as more patients recover. Convalescent plasma may serve as another stopgap measure against the pandemic before we get to an effective vaccine,” Dr. Faheem Younus, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, wrote in The Washington Post.
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Convalescent plasma therapy has been around for centuries. In the past, it was used to treat the 1918 and 1957 flu epidemics, as well as SARS, H1N1 and Ebola, NBC News reported. In the early 20th century, doctors transferred blood-borne antibodies of patients, who had recovered from polio, measles and mumps as well, to patients battling them, added The Los Angeles Times.
However, describing the treatment as a “promising rescue option” for the severely-ill, Xiaoming Yang, from the National Engineering Technology Research Center for Combined Vaccines in Wuhan, also said that a larger randomized trial was required to confirm the findings, The Guardian reported. Dr. Younus, who has been advocating the treatment, echoed the same concerns, but added that, “Despite these questions, doctors should aggressively pursue plasma therapy. We urgently need therapeutic interventions. It’s too painful to FaceTime [patients’] families and explain why we don’t have an effective treatment option. There’s no vaccine, and no drug known to work to reverse the illness cause by the novel coronavirus.”
“Convalescent plasma is being investigated for the treatment of Covid19 because there is no approved treatment for this disease… Further investigation is still necessary to determine if convalescent plasma might shorten the duration of illness, reduce morbidity, or prevent death associated with Covid19,” the FDA stated in a list of FAQs. While no one knows yet whether this plasma therapy will be a game-changer against the coronavirus, there is reason to be hopeful it may offer the stopgap measure our world’s healthcare systems so desperately need.