Italy sees a glimmer of hope in its high rate of coronavirus infections — more people whose antibodies might be used to treat those still hospitalized

ReutersMilan during the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Italy’s high coronavirus infection rate means it has more people who might donate plasma to help treat people severely suffering from COVID-19, according to CNN.
  • The hope is that antibodies in plasma from recovered patients or people who were infected with the virus could be successful at treating severe coronavirus patients.
  • An effective antibody test has yet to be developed, however.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After being the epicentre of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak, with more than 165,000 infections, Italy is looking for a silver lining.

According to CNN, the country is hoping to use antibodies from those who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat those who remain sick.

A doctor told CNN that the high number of infections meant there were more people who could donate plasma.

“Good can come out of this,” Fausto Baldanti said. “We had such a huge outbreak – now we have many potential donors.”

Business Insider previously reported that donor blood plasma from a recovered patient was being tested as a coronavirus treatment. The antibodies in the plasma could help fight against the virus in a patient’s body.

CNN noted that such treatments had long been used to treat patients with other illnesses.

Baldanti is a virologist at the University of Pavia San Matteo Hospital in the Lombardy region of Italy. Lombardy was the epicentre of Italy’s outbreak and accounts for the most infections and deaths. At one point the region pulled doctors out of retirement and asked to have nursing students graduate early to help with the influx of cases.

Baldanti told CNN he hoped “this plasma treatment can be crucial for controlling the infection in patients admitted to intensive-care units,” but the treatment is still in an experimental phase in the country.

Its utility will largely depend on a reliable, proven way to test for coronavirus antibodies, according to CNN.

Several companies including Abbott have launched new antibody tests that they hope to make available in the near future.

CNN reported that the Food and Drug Administration recently tightened restrictions on antibody tests in the US after previous relaxed rules caused low-quality tests.

In Italy, Giancarlo Maria Liumbruno, the director-general of the Italian National Blood Centre, is looking to have an antibody test available in weeks.

“We should have a serological exam (blood test) that is approved to test if someone has antibodies by the end of April,” Liumbruno told CNN. “We will start selecting the first donors by the end of the month.”

Trials of this process have already started in some hospitals in Northern Italy. Plasma from patients who recovered and tested negative for at least two weeks is used on those still battling COVID-19.

Italy has more than 1.7 million blood donors the country could screen to see if they have had COVID-19 and now have antibodies that could fight the virus, Liumbruno told CNN.

Their goal is to have repeat volunteers with antibodies donate plasma that could be used.

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