This article originally appeared on VICE India.
While some covidiots think all we need to cure COVID-19 is the “wind of god” or snake oil, or even injecting bleach, the one legit treatment that actually appears to be working as the world battles the highly contagious pandemic is convalescent plasma therapy. The practice of a recovered patient donating their plasma or blood, which contains antibodies against the virus, to help improve an infected patient’s condition, is being adapted across the world in the absence of a vaccine or cure. Case studies in China and the US show that many severely ill patients showed promising signs of recovery after receiving this treatment.
In India, the first COVID-19 patient to be given plasma therapy has also made a recovery. While this patient in Delhi was showing severe symptoms with no signs of recovery, his condition began improving soon after he was given the blood transfusion, and he has now made a full recovery—prompting many to cling to convalescent plasma therapy as a silver lining in this shitstorm. In Delhi, the central government has allowed plasma therapy trials to be conducted on critical patients and for its effects to be studied, with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal even urging recovered patients to come forward and donate their blood.
Along with this promising development in India, in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers in China reported that convalescent plasma therapy improved the outcomes of ten patients with severe coronavirus illness. This experimental therapy, which dates back several hundred years, was used in the treatment of the Spanish flu as well as the 2009 H1N1 influenza, SARS and MERS viruses. Researchers believe that this could help shorten how long the coronavirus illness lasts as well as reduce its risks, since the therapy can be given to both, recovering patients with severe symptoms as well as people who haven’t developed symptoms yet but have been exposed to a carrier. Convalescent plasma is one of three immune-based options that may be able to tackle COVID-19. However, doctors say that even as this therapy is promising, it would have to undergo randomised controlled trials for its clinical benefits to be assessed.
In the latest study, the researchers recruited ten patients at three hospitals in China. For an average period of about 16 days from the beginning of their infections, the patients were administered 200 ml of convalescent plasma obtained from former COVID-19 patients, along with other antiviral agents and supportive healthcare like ventilators and oxygen pumps. Blood obtained from discharged patients was collected four days after they fully recovered and treated to ensure that no virus was present.
According to doctors working on evaluating this treatment in Italy, the high amounts of antibodies needed for convalescent plasma therapy can only be taken after patients who had a severe case of the condition have recovered. Within three days, most patients began showing an improvement in cough, cold, fever symptoms and lesser dependence on ventilators, and in seven days the damage to the lungs had reduced with no adverse side-effects. While all patients showed significant signs of recovery—with three even discharged while the rest also on their way to making full recoveries—researchers agreed that more extensive randomised controlled trials are needed to assess the efficacy of the therapy, and examine whether it can be adopted at a mass-level. These trials could help determine the ideal dosage and time of transfusion. Meanwhile, the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control maintains that even if a coronavirus patient has fully recovered, their chances of relapsing and getting the novel virus for a second time are pretty high, making some skeptical that plasma therapy is more of a temporary band-aid fix.
Currently, 20 studies examining the benefits and side-effects of plasma therapy are being undertaken across the world, while an Indo-US organisations called Sewa International is working on creating online registries that can help connect the patient with a potential plasma donor.
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