What is Plasma Therapy? How Does it Work in COVID Patients?

Does Plasma Therapy work in helping COVID-19 patients or is it too early to tell yet?

Updated19 Jun 2020, 11:17 AM IST
Coronavirus
2 min read

In the recently revised treatment protocol issues by the Union Health Ministry on 13 June, off label used of convalescent plasma therapy was approved for patients with moderate disease who are not improving (oxygen requirement is progressively increasing) despite use of steroids.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) been conducting randomised control trials in 21 hospitals to assess the safety & efficacy of convalescent plasma.

What is this experimental treatment and is there hope to be found in it? Let's decode:

“Plasma therapy is nothing new in medical science. It has been used in the past in other infectious outbreaks, especially viral outbreaks like SARS.”
Dr Sandeep Budhiraja,Group Medical Director, Max Healthcare

How does it work?

There is a process called passive immunity, where if a person is critically ill with a viral infection we can actually inject into this patient's bodies pre-formed anti-bodies. Now how do we get these anti-bodies?

“Imagine a situation where there is a patient that has had COVID-19infection in the past and has successfully recovered from it. Now this person has recovered from his body had produced anti-bodies, the protective anti-bodies.”

Dr Budhiraja adds, “The procedure is very simple, we basically connect the donor to a separator, the plasma is taken out. We take about 400 ml of plasma from one donor.

“It’s very early days to really say the ultimate outcome. And there are many factors involved in recovery.”

So to sum up, plasma therapy is not a new treatment option and can only be used un the experimental stage to aid severely ill patients so far.  Doctors are trying to see if one COVID-19 recovered person’s anti-body rich blood plasma can help save another infected person.

How Effective is This?

One of the benefits of this therapy is that it is a tried and tested method. Versions of this have existed to treat the Spanish Flu of 1918 and another coronavirus’ like SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012.

And with new technology,  chances are it will be more effective.

It is also considered to be a low-risk treatment. But another critical care doctor we spoke with say plasma therapy is no magic bullet. They point to possible lung damage as well.

The danger lies in the unknown. COVID-19 is a new disease and the pool to test this on is not that large.

Officially, ICMR does not recommend it outside of clinical trials.

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Published: 06 May 2020, 11:07 AM IST

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