Convalescent plasma therapy promising but not a ‘magic bullet’ for COVID-19

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LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — Doctors in Acadiana are looking to one of the latest weapons in their arsenal to treat the most critically ill patients, and it involves people who have already recovered.

​”I think as physicians we feel ethically and philosophically as patients and we want to offer them some sort of hope.”​

​So far, no drug on the market has worked for the majority of COVID-19 patients. The drug Remdisivir has been shown to reduce recovery time in some patients, but has not been a cure. The use of hydrochloroquine, on the other hand, has been largely discontinued because of its lack of effectiveness and potential to cause heart disease. ​

​”We don’t have that magic silver bullet yet but we do have some treatments with convalescent plasma that I think is promising.”​

​Convalescent plasma therapy doesn’t involve a drug fighting the virus. Doctors transfuse a patient with a blood product from someone who has had a particular disease, in this case COVID-19. The premise is that the antibodies in the plasma will help the patient fight the disease. The therapy is currently considered investigational, but medical centers can apply to use it in patients who meet a set of criteria.​

​First, the patient or their representative must give consent. Next, the disease must severe or the patient must be experiencing life-threatening conditions. ​

​Lafayette General Health has gained the approval of the FDA to treat a handful of patients in their hospitals.​

“Most of them have been in the ICU. We’ve had mixed results. We certainly haven’t had any bad outcomes from giving plasma and we have seen some improvements.”​

​But, as Dr. Aertker said, plasma isn’t a magic bullet.​

​”It’s not a dramatic overnight change you will see with these patients. It takes some time for those antibodies to work and to really do their job to neutralize the virus which gives the body time to heal from it so that it doesn’t continue to get attacked.”​

​And that’s what COVID-19 does and why, doctors say, it’s so dangerous.​

​”I look at COVID-19 as a very bad cold with a bad speartip. And what I mean by speartip is that this virus causes a lot of problems in the body that we have never seen.”​

 ​Convalescent plasma therapy relies on people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 being donors. LGH is working with local blood supplier Vitalant to assist in the process.  ​

“They do a series of tests to see if they are eligible in general and then they also do some testing on that plasma to look for the level of antibodies against COVID. They don’t want to give us a donation of plasma that doesn’t have enough in it to do any good for the patient.”​

​The doctors point out that convalescent plasma therapy is only one of the treatments they hope are effective in treating COVID-19 patients. Researchers still working to collect data about how effective it really is and making sure it doesn’t do any harm to the patient. ​

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