Life-saving plasma: blood donations can help patients fight COVID-19

The blood of people who have recovered from coronavirus contains antibodies that could potentially help other patients get better.

The blood of people who have been ill with COVID-19 and recovered can become one of the means of treatment and prevention of coronavirus. However, there is still no one hundred percent certainty about this: now scientists are figuring out whether transfusion of infected people with plasma – a transparent and liquid part of blood – from patients who were able to defeat the coronavirus and develop immunity to this disease can stop the development of the virus.

This procedure is not new: doctors have practiced plasma transfusions for the past hundred years during various outbreaks of viral diseases – from the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 to the measles epidemic in the 1930s and the Ebola outbreak in 2014..

Alarm

When infected patients recover, antibodies appear in their blood, allowing the body to develop immunity against re-infection with the virus. Antibodies are a kind of “alarm signal” for the immune system. When the virus tries to infect a person who has recovered again, antibodies draw the attention of the immune system to the invader and the body begins an intensified fight against the virus..

Typically, transfusing the blood plasma of recovered patients (convalescent serum or convalescent serum) temporarily transfers this protection to sick people..
“If you can isolate these antibodies and pass them on to people who have either been exposed to [the virus] and are therefore at risk or are in an early stage of the disease, then you have a good chance of making a difference,” says Dr. Shmuel Shoham, associate – Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
However, such procedures are not effective in all cases. Shoham conducted a study to find out if plasma transfusions in people who have had the flu help people with moderate to severe flu. It turned out that in this case, transfusion does not help speed up recovery..

Packages with frozen plasma extracted from donated blood

However, Shoham does not give up hope that convalescent serum can help fight COVID-19: according to him, the patients who participated in his study may have been in too serious a condition..
“When you are trying to treat a disease in an advanced form, when viruses penetrate too deeply into the tissues … when the disease is already deep inside,” such treatment may no longer play a special role, the researcher suggests..
Plasma transfusion can serve as a prophylactic measure for people at high risk of infection, such as healthcare workers, Shoham said. Vaccines help the immune system develop antibodies to viruses by injecting a weakened or dead form of the pathogen into the body. Plasma transfusion works in the same way, providing the body with temporary protection against infection..

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Recovered From COVID-19? Your Plasma Donation Could Help Save Lives

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Plasma transfusion patients do not develop their own antibodies, so the protection eventually disappears. Chinese doctors used covalescent plasma in the treatment of patients infected with COVID-19, but controlled clinical trials have not been carried out, and now it is difficult for researchers to judge to what extent this procedure has helped in the treatment of sick people..

Chinese experience

It is known that the Chinese authorities have appealed to people who have recovered from COVID-19, with an appeal to donate plasma.

Doctors in Wuhan, China’s epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak

Chinese state TV quotes Xiong Fei, a bus driver from Wuhan who contracted the virus from his mother, a victim of COVID-19: “I hope everyone can do their part to help end the epidemic as soon as possible,” Xiong said..
Blood banks regularly collect plasma for use in surgery and emergency departments.
The Spanish medical company Grifols has signed an agreement with the US government to collect plasma at US donor centers. Isolation of antibodies to coronavirus from plasma is also planned for further clinical trials..

Approved but not proven

This week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized doctors to urgently use convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19..

Stephen Hahn, head of the FDA

The head of the department, Stephen Hahn, emphasizes that although plasma treatment is now possible, its effectiveness has not yet been clinically proven. Only as a result of additional research it will be possible to find out the safety and efficacy of treating patients with coronavirus using convalescent serum.

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