As healthcare providers found some drugs ineffective in treating COVID-19, they turned to a method long used to treat viruses: convalescent plasma.
“At the start of the pandemic, blood suppliers all over the United States were collecting plasma from people infected with COVID-19 and recovering because the plasma actually contains antibodies against COVID itself,” said Kirby Winn, Mississippi Valley Regional spokesperson. Blood center.
Plasma is the liquid part of your blood that contains antibodies that fight infections.
Donating plasma is different from donating blood. When you donate whole blood, it goes straight to a collection bag. When you donate plasma, the blood taken from your arm goes into a machine that separates the different parts of your blood. The plasma is collected and the unused parts, including your red blood cells, are returned to your vein.
Historically, convalescent plasma transfusions have been used to enhance the ability of critically ill patients to fight infection when no treatment or vaccine is available. This type of treatment has been used successfully in the past with similar types of viruses, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration helped establish protocols for using plasma in March, and many local blood banks began collecting convalescent plasma in April.
As the number of COVID-19 infections increased in Iowa and elsewhere, the need for convalescent plasma increased, as did the number of recovered patients who could potentially donate their plasma.
“We’ve had weeks where we’ve done something like 30-40 donation procedures in the entire week, and a few weeks ago it was over 150 because more and more people are aware of opportunity, but there are also more people who are eligible for it, ”Winn said.
At the DeGowin Blood Center, which serves hospitals and clinics at the University of Iowa and patients at the Stead Family Children’s Hospital at the University of Iowa, Dr. Mike Knudson studied the effectiveness of using the convalescent plasma as a treatment for critically ill COVID-19 patients.
“We weren’t sure whether it would work or not. And I’ll be blunt, we’re still not 100% sure it’s working and who’s most likely to benefit from it, ”said Knudson, the centre’s medical director. “What I recommend at the UIHC is to test the patient when you think about the plasma to make sure that their antibody levels are negative, and if they are negative, transfuse them so that you can try to make them positive. “
Knudson was able to show that the treatment works if you use donors who have high levels of COVID-19 antibodies. Of the 180 subjects his center screened, only about 20 percent had levels high enough to yield convalescent plasma.
“Although it has been observed that people who have been more seriously ill have higher antibody levels, for me it is enough to screen everyone, and even if someone was asymptomatic, if they had high antibody levels, we always want him in, ”says Knudson. “So I wouldn’t necessarily rule them out right away just because they weren’t very sick. “
At the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, which supports hospitals in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Maquoketa and elsewhere in eastern Iowa, every donation of convalescent plasma is tested for the presence of antibodies.
Although it depends on the person for how long after their initial infection the antibodies will still be present, the center also wants to ensure that donors are fully recovered before coming in to donate plasma, asking donors to wait at least 28 days after their infection.
“They will still have the antibodies present even if they feel better, but also when they come to donate, we don’t want this donor to be contagious and potentially expose other donors or staff to COVID,” said Winn.
Donating plasma takes longer than donating whole blood – usually about an hour and 15 minutes. With the time to register and be evaluated, the whole process takes around two hours.
At the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, donors must present a positive COVID-19 test result, be collected for at least 28 days, and be at least 17 years old. A self-referral form can be completed at bloodcenter.org, and a staff member will contact you to make an appointment.
Two regional blood centers are available at Cedar Rapids, Lindale Crossing on First Avenue NE, and Williams Boulevard SW. Staff will also bring plasma collection equipment to mobile blood drives if a plasma donor is planned.
The Red Cross collects convalescent plasma in its donation centers. Donors must have a verified positive diagnosis of COVID-19 but be fully recovered and symptom-free, be in good health, be at least 17 years old, and weigh at least 110 pounds. Eligible individuals can donate convalescent plasma every seven days or up to eight times over three months. Learn more at redcrossblood.org.
“Right now, I would say our inventory of convalescent plasma is critical,” said Laura McGuire, spokesperson for the Red Cross.
BioLife Plasma Services collects donated convalescent plasma at its centers in Cedar Rapids. Donors must make an appointment, as the center limits the number of people in the office at the same time. Donors must also present a positive COVID-19 test within the past 90 days. BioLife and its parent company, Takeda, are part of the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance, which is developing a potential treatment option for people at risk of serious complications from COVID-19.
Local convalescent plasma programs plan to continue collecting until no longer needed.
“As long as it’s needed in hospitals,” Winn said. “And hospitals in the region we serve are using it all the time. They are still seeing a lot of COVID patients, and it is a treatment option that we are happy to continue to offer.
“If there is a big reduction in COVID-19 cases as vaccinations are rolled out and circumstances change, we will adapt to that. “
AMERICAN RED CROSS
Phone: 1- (800) -CROIX ROUGE (1-800-733-2767)
DEGOWIN BLOOD CENTER
Telephone: (319) 356-2058
MISSISSIPPI VALLEY REGIONAL HEALTH CENTER
Telephone: (833) 610-1025
A person who has recovered from COVID-19 may donate plasma more often than donate blood, sometimes as often as once a week, up to eight times in three months, in an effort to share their newly acquired antibodies acquired with other patients infected with the virus. (Adobe Stock)