- If you have recovered from COVID-19, your blood may contain anti-bodies that your body created to help you fight off the virus.
- Plasma is the liquid part of your blood that carries waters, proteins, and antibodies, and donating that plasma may help other sick people fight COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
- 200 Americans have already completed plasma transfusions, and the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project has a list of donation locations on their site.
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If you have recovered from COVID-19, your plasma could be useful for scientists to study or for hospitals to use in experimental treatments for people battling the disease in the ICU.
When your immune system fights off a virus, it creates antibodies which mount a defence to fend off the pathogen.
But, because the novel coronavirus is a new type of pathogen that humans have never encountered before, most people’s bodies will not produce enough antibodies as fast as it normally would when fighting a flu, for example.
That’s why scientists are interested in studying the blood of people who have survived COVID-19 – and possibly using their plasma to treat sick people, essentially giving them a reinforcement of antibodies to fight off the virus.
The idea is still in its early stages, but research teams are keen to get it moving after one April 2020 trial on 10 severe adult cases found that just a single dose of 200 ml of convalescent plasma was beneficial to those patients.
“The use of convalescent plasma or hyperimmune globulin has been part of the treatment of severe infectious diseases going back almost to the beginning of when we understood viral infection,” Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program, said in a press conference. “It is a very important area to pursue.”
As of now, there’s no proof that COVID-19 convalescent plasma donations work, but it is one of the most promising treatments in development.
Plasma has been a common treatment for many diseases for the last 100 years
Using plasma to treat infections has been a part of medical practice for a century. During the 1918 flu pandemic, plasma was used as a treatment, and it’s also been used for dozens of other diseases, like measles or chickenpox. Infectious diseases like SARS and MERS have also been treated with plasma, but with varying results.
After blood cells and platelets are removed, the clear yellow liquid that remains is plasma, which is full of water, salts, proteins and antibodies – and before antibiotics were discovered it was commonly used to treat bacterial infections.
Plasma donations are still used today, for people with autoimmune disorders, infections like Wilson’s disease, and to help people who’ve received organ transplants to counter the effects of the bodies rejection process.
The process of collecting plasma is called plasmapheresis, a process which takes several hours. It’s uncomfortable, but not painful, according to Healthline.Afterwards, donors might be dizzy and dehydrated.
To donate plasma to fight COVID-19, you must have tested positive for the disease and been recovered from it for at least two weeks.
“You’re giving [the patient] a boost of antibodies to hopefully get them through the very difficult phase,” said Ryan. “It mops up the virus in the system and it just gives the new patient’s immune system a vital push.”
Here’s where you can register
The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project has a list of donation locations on their site, from The American Association of Blood Banks, which can find you a local certified blood bank, to the Red Cross to the Tufts University donor registry for clinical trials.
On April 3, the FDA announced an expanded access program to bring blood therapies to Americans. By April 16, over 1,290 sites and 1,478 physicans had signed on to the program, and 876 patients enrolled, while 200 completed transfusions.
Other drugmakers working on plasma treatments include Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., Regeneron, and Vir Biotechnology.