Blood donation centers across the country are gearing up efforts to collect plasma from patients already stricken by the coronavirus for use in treating other patients.
According to the Texas Medical Center, Houston Methodist Hospital was the first academic medical center to perform blood plasma transfusion this past weekend in the hopes that this old-fashioned treatment may help critically ill patients survive the virus. Results of this procedure are pending.
According to Kaiser Health News, the century-old treatment, called convalescent plasma therapy or convalescent serum therapy, uses blood products taken from those who have recovered from a viral infection and injects them into those who are still suffering. The practice was first used to combat the 1918 flu epidemic and has since been used to treat victims of Ebola, SARS, and H1N1 influenza.
"Convalescent serum therapy could be a vital treatment route, because, unfortunately, there is relatively little to offer many patients except supportive care — and the ongoing clinical trials are going to take a while. We don't have that much time," said Dr. Eric Salazar, M.D., Ph.D., a principal investigator at Houston Medical Research Institute.
Plasma is called "the gift of life" for a reason, according to the Texas Medical Center. The clear, straw-colored component of blood is rich in antibodies that are produced by the immune system to fight off foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the emergency use of convalescent plasma by doctors for critically ill patients with COVID-19 on March 28.
Kaiser Health News reports that the AABB, an international nonprofit agency focused on transfusion medicine and cellular therapies, has issued guidelines directing dozens of community blood centers nationwide that could become a key source of treatment for plasma therapy.
A few sites in the U.S., including the New York blood center, have already started collecting plasma. The American Red Cross has set up a website to collect information on potential plasma donors.
The guidelines issued by the AABB require that plasma can be drawn form donors who have lab-confirmed tests showing they had COVID-19 and have since tested negative for the virus, or 28 days have passed since they have shown symptoms, according to Kaiser Health. They'll be eligible to donate every 28 days afterward, say the guidelines.
One patient, Dr. Jon Peters, a 66-year-ol physician in Portland, Oregon, has been sick with the virus but plans to donate his plasma as soon as he's is able, says Kaiser Health.
"It's such a low-risk issue for the person donating it, but it could save a life," he said. "At this point, they need every option they can get."
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