“There are real dangers in the way plasma therapy has been publicized in the media, particularly in Pakistan”, Dawn News reported.
Every passing day is coming with grim news due to the constant increase in COVID-19 infections worldwide. Right now it has grappled the entire world and is not showing any signs of slowing down. As COVID-19 is new (novel), researchers are still trying to understand it. The scary part is that there are currently no approved medical treatments or vaccines that will help in curing and preventing this infection.
Due to this uncertain situation, healthcare professionals are trying different interventions to help in curing this disease, and one such intervention is plasma therapy.
Reportedly, two elderly South Korean coronavirus patients recovered from severe pneumonia after being treated with plasma from survivors, offering hope in the face of the global pandemic.
According to experts, plasma therapy could become an alternative treatment for patients in critical condition who do not respond to antiviral drugs, however, the method still lacks large-scale clinical trial.
Two patients infected with COVID-19 have recovered after plasma treatments; the method still lacks large-scale clinical trial https://t.co/Ki8UafTt1M #covid19 #healtcare #coranavirus #plasmatreatment #southkorea
— OnBRM (@OnBRM) April 7, 2020
What is plasma therapy?
Plasma therapy is a common name of the convalescent serum transfusion. It was used as a last resort during the Ebola outbreaks of 2014, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).
Plasma therapy is a process of collecting blood from a fully recovered patient (in this case COVID-19). Then by removing blood cells, the plasma is obtained which contains antibodies and other proteins. Then the plasma is transfused into the infected patient to provide them a form of passive immunity which helps in fighting the infection. Do remember, that the passive immunization is only beneficial for a short time, which usually lasts for a few weeks to months.
Another important thing to note as reported by the Dawn news is that the donor of the plasma must test negative for other respiratory viruses, as well as for Hepatitis B & C viruses, syphilis, and HIV at the time of donation. And they should be healthy for at least 10 days, and contains a high level of COVID-19 specific antibodies.
Is plasma therapy the answer to COVID-19?
We don’t know. As there is no clear answer at this moment. As scientists and medical researchers all over the world are grappling with this question and trying to find the answer. The data from the China experiments is very small and those patients were also having other multiple treatments. So the findings of that experiment cannot be generalized.
The plasma therapy can be effective and might yield promising results in the future. At the current time, there is no guarantee as it’s an experimental therapy and can yield both positive and negative results.
Previous implementations of plasma therapy indicate that this procedure comes with certain risks, which may lead to certain side effects in recipients. Which include acute lung injuries, severe allergic reactions, and circulatory overload.
Situation in Pakistan
Only a handful of places in Pakistan has the technology to perform plasma therapy. This limits its use in the country on a wider scale. The donor has to be willing to donate, as this is not like an ordinary blood donation and has its risks. 400ml of plasma is collected through a procedure called “apheresis”. In this process, the donor’s blood is passed through a machine that extracts the plasma and returns the blood cells to the donor’s body. It is a long process and can take up to 2 hours. The side effects include fatigue, nausea, dizziness, allergic reactions, etc.
The public expectations regarding plasma therapy should be kept in check. Yes, providing hope in times of despair is essential for boosting public morale. It is also the ethical and utmost responsibility of the media to provide complete information to the general public about the process and its side effects.