3 Things You Should Know About Plasma Therapy As A COVID-19 Treatment

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: July 27, 2020

There is a lot of research being conducted about how blood affects and is affected by COVID-19. This includes blood type and how it can influence susceptibility, as well as treatment and potential immunity through antibodies. Among the most promising experimental treatments is the transfusion of plasma, the liquid part of blood, from a recovered COVID-19 patient into an ill patient. The hope is that receiving the antibodies contained in plasma helps the infected patient overcome COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know.
  1. Blood plasma transfusions have worked for other, similar infections.
    The medical community refers to this treatment as convalescent plasma therapy. Convalescent plasma refers to plasma from people who have recovered from an illness. The concept is that something in the blood has helped one person get better and the antibodies in the blood might help someone else get better as well. This treatment option is not new; it has been in use for over 100 years, with the first well-documented cases during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. More recently, it was used to treat several infections, including SARS, H1N1, MERS, and Ebola virus. Although empirical evidence reflects the efficacy and safety of use, there is a lack of large-scale, randomized clinical trials to support this. The attention that plasma therapy is currently receiving, however, is unparalleled, and there are dozens of studies underway to assess this treatment option for COVID-19.
  2. It has been evaluated as a safe treatment option for those with severe cases of COVID-19.
    This is the key conclusion noted in a peer-reviewed study, where blood plasma transfusions were used to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. In this study, conducted at the Houston Methodist Hospital and funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), 19 out of 25 (76%) patients showed improvement, with 11 of them being discharged from the hospital. The study’s overall findings are consistent with several related case studies, where no adverse side effects were caused by the plasma transfusions. The Houston study also found that patient outcomes with plasma therapy were similar to compassionate-use cases with the antiviral drug remdesivir.
  3. Further studies are needed to determine the extent of plasma therapy’s impact.
    While studies show there is promise with this treatment option, there are still open questions. Researchers are trying to understand if recovered patients develop immunity to COVID-19 and, if so, the duration of that immunity. In addition, follow-up studies are underway to examine how the timing and quantity of plasma transfused affects the outcome. A final consideration is there are varying levels of antibodies within recovered COVID-19 patients. It is still unclear what antigen level is required to develop resistance. Based on this, plasma donors may be screened on ability to help COVID-19 patients recover.

With an approved vaccine still many months away, effective treatment options are critical to help people recover from COVID-19. Plasma therapy is a promising option that has shown improvement in critically ill patients. However, further research is underway to fully understand and realize the effects of this treatment.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.