Plasma transfusion improves recovery of COVID-19

As the vaccine for COVID-19 is not expected anytime soon, doctors around the country are experimenting with different approaches to treat patients infected with the virus. A treatment that uses blood plasma from recovered COVID patients is showing some positive results.

Three Indian Americans, who were hospitalised in a critical condition for COVID-19 in a hospital in the US, are reportedly showing signs of recovery after giving this treatment. They were transfused with antibody-rich plasma harvested from recovered COVID-19 patients.

Known as convalescent plasma therapy, it’s an old technique that had been used to treat patients with SARS, Ebola, H1N1 and the Spanish flu epidemic in the past. However, doctors aren’t sure if it would be fully effective against COVID-19.

How this plasma therapy works

When a pathogen like the novel coronavirus infect us, our immune system produces antibodies to help fight it off.  Antibodies are a particular type of proteins secreted by immune cells called B lymphocytes when they encounter an invader, such as the novel coronavirus.

In convalescent plasma therapy, doctors collect antibody-rich plasma from people who have recovered from the novel coronavirus and inject it into those who have severe cases of COVID-19.

Some small studies have shown positive results. There are reports that patients who received doses of antibodies have improved and stopped relying on ventilators.

Doctors at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston treated five critically ill COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma therapy. Three of them, all Indian Americans, recently received plasma transfusion, collected from donors with same blood groups. According to hospital sources, they are showing positive signs of recovery. They will be given new rounds of plasma transfusion after finding the donors.

The Baylor College of Medicine has also been authorised to conduct a clinical trial of the convalescent plasma therapy, which is expected to start within a couple of weeks.

Is this treatment approved in India?

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved the use of convalescent plasma therapy but is allowing initial clinical trials. Last week, the FDA selected the Mayo Clinic to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment. Since then, many hospital systems in the country have registered through the Mayo Clinic to start treating patients with convalescent plasma.

The Indian council for medical research (ICMR) has given approval to the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST), for carrying out the novel treatment to patients suffering from COVID-19 disease. SCTIMST is an autonomous medical school located at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

Initially the treatment will be provided to a small number of severely affected patients. At present, it will be conducted as a clinical trial.

Who can donate the blood for Plasma transfusion?  

The donor should be a person who has recovered from COVID-19 sickness, especially those whose blood is rich in antibodies for that pathogen. The potential donor would be examined before the blood serum is extracted and given to a sick person. He/she has to be declared as cured and the swab test must be negative. Also, the recovered person has to wait for two weeks or should be asymptomatic for at least 28 days to become a donor.