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COVID-19 plasma treatment 'promising,' MercyOne doctor says

Doctors at MercyOne Des Moines have been using convalescent plasma to treat coronavirus patients since April.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sunday evening, President Donald Trump announced the Food and Drug Administration's emergency authorization to use convalescent blood plasma as a treatment against the novel coronavirus. 

Many scientists believe convalescent plasma might provide some benefit, but it's far from a breakthrough in treating COVID-19 patients. 

Doctors at MercyOne Des Moines said they've been using this treatment since mid-April on COVID-19 patients. While there haven't been any published studies on this treatment, infectious disease specialist Dr. Aneese Afroze said it's already looking "promising."

The Des Moines hospital has treated around 60 patients, according to Afroze. She said it's hard to say how well the treatment works with a small amount of patients, however, data collected by the Mayo Clinic showed a hopeful future. 

The Mayo Clinic published a preprint that identifies two main signals of efficacy, or effectiveness, that can inform future clinical trials on plasma therapy for COVID-19 patients. 

"They looked at the data that was collected within those three months, about 35,000 patients, and they reported improved mortality, less deaths at seven day and 30 day intervals. So that was very promising," Afroze said.

This report also said 1% of patients had adverse effects to the treatment. 

Doctors in China used this same treatment for coronavirus patients. Afroze noted that their studies had around 10-15 patients, however the results were similar to the Mayo Clinic's findings. 

"It showed that patients got better sooner, got off the ventilator sooner. So, so we did have something to bank on before we started even giving plasma to patients in the United States," Afroze said. 

FDA Chief Scientist Diane Hinton said convalescent plasma shouldn't be a standard treatment for COVID-19, and Afroze agrees that it isn't. 

"I mean, we have not really proven its efficacy at all. You know, we just have some data that that looks promising. And for us at this point, it's like something is better than nothing for our COVID patients and passive immunity," Afronze said.

"It's not standard of care until we really have some good randomized control trials out there that prove that this is really beneficial."

Afroze said it could take months before this treatment is standardized for coronavirus patients.

It's not the first time scientists and doctors have used the treatment.

"It's been given for decades for various illnesses, like measles, and you know, I mean way back. 1918, the pandemic influenza, H1N1 influenza, I mean, people have used it even for Ebola virus disease," Afroze said. 

Afroze also compared convalescent plasma treatments to getting a shot. Once a vaccine is injected into a body, the body develops antibodies to fight the virus. Instead of a vaccine, the plasma is administered like a blood transfusion.

COVID-19 survivors that donate their plasma are able to help current COVID-19 patients fight the virus. 

Afroze said that this treatment doesn't work for everyone. 

"Some people who are, say, elderly folks or people who have a lot of other comorbidities, you know, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and other things, cancer or things like that, I mean, they may still not have that and infection fighting capacity," Afroze explained.

Afroze encouraged COVID-19 survivors to donate plasma if they can.

"Donate plasma to save some lives." 

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