As the wait for the COVID-19 vaccine continues, the battle rages on. Scores of people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, many have succumbed, and many more have recovered from the infection as well.
For those patients who successfully overcome the virus, social media is inundated with requests that they donate their plasma for Convalescent Plasma Therapy – a treatment considered to be beneficial to patients who have tested positive.
‘Plasma’ is the liquid component in the blood that carries antibodies, hormones, and various nutrients across the body. Convalescent Plasma is the plasma collected from people who were infected and have made a complete recovery; these people develop antibodies which are of vital importance. Antibodies are proteins used by the body to fight off infections and thus provide immunity to those who have beaten COVID-19. The plasma of these patients is transfused into the blood of patients who are fighting COVID-19.
The therapy may be specifically beneficial to those who are extremely sick and haven’t responded to other treatments – often developing Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), which may require ventilator support, informs director-internal medicine, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, Farah Ingale. “While there isn’t sufficient data to back its efficacy, Convalescent Plasma Therapy is reported to help patients who are at higher risk, such as those with comorbidities like heart disease or diabetes, or those who have weakened immune systems,” states Ingale.
What are the functions of blood plasma?
• Antibodies once bound to the virus, neutralise it
• The antibodies activate the pathways and help prevent further damage to cells
• Reduces the overall viral load
• Plasma transfused from at least two donors provides diverse antibodies, thus delivering greater protection to the immune system
How can you become a plasma donor?
A donor must wait up to 14-28 days after full recovery before being approved. To donate, the person must:
• Not have a fever
• Not have any respiratory difficulties
• Have normal oxygen levels, ie between 95 per cent and 100 per cent
• Have overall good health
• At the time of infection, a valid and official diagnostic test must be done to confirm SARS-CoV
• Undergo standard procedure to rule out HIV, Hepatitis B and C virus, etc
• Have two negative tests to SARS-CoV-2 at an interval of 24 hours on nasal swabs
How is plasma collected?
• Blood plasma is collected through a procedure called Plasmapheresis which usually takes around 45 minutes
• During this procedure, blood is drawn and the plasma is separated; the blood cells and platelets are then returned to the donor
• It can also be drawn from whole blood
• Plasma is rather swiftly replenished in the body
• The general volume of plasma to be collected is between 300 millilitres to 600 millilitres.
• Once the plasma is extracted, it is frozen at – 18 degrees Celsius or colder within 24 hours of extraction. It can be stored for up to 12 months from the date of extraction
Are repeat plasma donations done?
• If a donor may wish to donate once again, if done previously by the Plasmapheresis method – s/he should wait for about seven days
• If whole blood was donated, the ideal wait time is around eight weeks before the next donation
It is important to note that the treatment is at an experimental stage and is not yet proven to be fully effective for COVID-19, the doctor concludes.