Iowa Specialty Hospital

Understanding Convalescent Plasma Therapy as It Relates to COVID-19

Convalescent plasma therapy is an experimental treatment that some doctors are using for people with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't approved any drugs specifically to treat people with COVID-19.  However, people who've recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies (proteins the body uses to fight off infections) to the disease in their blood. The blood from people who've recovered is called convalescent plasma.  If you've had COVID-19 and recovered from it, you should consider donating blood through your local blood donation center.

Researchers hope that convalescent plasma can be given to people with severe COVID-19 to boost their ability to fight the virus. It also might help keep people who are moderately ill from becoming more ill and experiencing COVID-19 complications.

Convalescent plasma therapy may be helpful for people with COVID-19 who aren't helped by other treatments. Some people with COVID-19 become very sick and don't respond to other treatments or drugs. These people often develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) — a severe lung condition. They often require mechanical assistance, such as a ventilator, to breathe. These people also are in danger of developing organ failure.

It could also help other people who may have a higher risk of serious illness, such as people with chronic medical conditions, for example, heart disease or diabetes, or those who have weakened immune systems. Convalescent plasma could help these people from getting sicker if they get COVID-19. Convalescent plasma might also be considered for family members or healthcare workers who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 to potentially prevent them from getting COVID-19.

A doctor may consider a patient as a candidate for convalescent plasma therapy if they are seriously ill with COVID-19 in the hospital. Convalescent plasma will be ordered that is compatible with the patient’s blood type from the hospital's local blood supplier.

When the plasma arrives, the sterile plasma bag is attached to the tube and the plasma drips out of the bag and into the tube. It takes about one to two hours to complete the procedure.  The doctor will record the patient’s response and reaction to the treatment. He or she may record how long the patient needed to stay in the hospital or if breathing treatments or other therapies are required following the convalescent plasma procedure.

This notion for convalescent plasma treatments was first introduced in the late 19th century when physiologist Emil von Behring and bacteriologist Kitasato Shibasaburou discovered that they could use antibodies present in serum, another blood component, to fight the bacterial infection diptheria. Since then, doctors have used passive antibody therapy, on and off, at least since the 1930s to treat or prevent both bacterial and viral infections, including forms of pneumonia, meningitis, and measles.

Convalescent plasma is one of the current therapies that Iowa Specialty Hospitals & Clinics has available for our hospitalized COVID 19 patients.  We have utilized it on a handful of patients and have found that symptoms improved within 24 - 48 hours.  So far, convalescent plasma has shown promising results.

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