Does plasma therapy really help COVID-19 patients?

The latest global celebrity to confirm a positive coronavirus diagnosis is The Real Housewives of New York star, Ramona Singer, who with her daughter Avery tested positive for the COVID-19 antibodies. Now, they have donated their plasma.

Closer home, while we await a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, social media is flooded with plasma donation pledges. Celebrities are calling on coronavirus patients to donate their plasma for convalescent plasma therapy, one of the COVID-19 treatments.

One of the celebs who tweeted on the topic is actor Ajay Devgn. “If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, you are a corona warrior. We need an army of such warriors to overcome this invisible enemy. Your blood contains the bullets that can kill the virus. Please donate your blood, so others, especially the serious ones can recover. Sign up now (sic.),” his tweet reads.

The Real Housewives of New York star, Ramona Singer, who with her daughter Avery tested positive for the COVID-19 antibodies have donated their plasmas

Riddhima Kapoor Sahni also posted a picture on her Instagram stories of her husband Bharat donating plasma.

Another celeb who has taken up the cause too is actress Zoa Morani, who has been donating her plasma since she recovered from the virus. “Plasma donation round 2 ! Last time it helped get a patient out of ICU (sic.),” she captioned her Instagram post.

Promoting the initiative called “Help win the war against Covid-19”, which is to donate plasma, even actor Aamir Khan had posted a video posted on his social media accounts on Wednesday.

What's the fuss about?

Or, in other words, what exactly is convalescent plasma therapy? Dr Vishnu Rao, consultant infectious diseases at Apollo Hospitals, explains.

“Blood plasma is a yellowish liquid that makes up about half your blood volume. After a viral infection, your plasma contains antibodies which can be used to help fight infection. It is a process in which blood plasma from a patient who has recovered from COVID-19 is transfused into a critically ill patient so that the specific antibodies present in the blood of the recovered person can help fight the infection,” says Dr Vishnu Rao.

So, is plasma therapy indeed the game-changer as it is being claimed to be? More importantly, could donating survivors’ plasma right after a high-risk exposure to the virus stave off the illness in another?

Dr Manjula Anagani, the head of the department, chief gynaecologist, obstetrician, infertility speciality and laparoscopic surgeon at Maxcure Hospitals, is a little more sceptical. “Until fresh data emerges, the outcomes of donating convalescent plasma remain ‘supportive’ at the most,” she shares.

“For one, once an infection has progressed to a point that organ damage or other consequences of massive inflammation have occurred, it is uncertain to what extent convalescent plasma provides benefits as it is not expected to treat these complications.”

More awaited in results

Another expert who is cautious on expressing unbridled enthusiasm over the procedure is Dr Prakash Doraiswamy, senior consultant, critical care and anaesthesiology at Aster CMI Hospital.

The doctor agrees that plasma extraction is a very simple process, which does not cause harm to the donor. “The extracted plasma is stored as a frozen component, which is to be used when indicated,” he adds. “And while lots of trials are happening around the world, none of them conclusively says that convalescent plasma is absolutely beneficial to the patient.”

However, Dr Manjula, who tells us that trial data on the use of convalescent plasma are emerging, appears to be hopeful and uncertain at once. “It is possible that convalescent plasma provides clinical benefit when given early in the course of disease in patients who do not require mechanical intubation, but this remains uncertain,” she adds.


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