Convalescent plasma safe to treat COVID-19: national study

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The most comprehensive national study to date has revealed that convalescent plasma appears to be safe to use in COVID-19 patients, a promising development in the race for treatment for the deadly virus. But the study has not determined whether the treatment works.

A team of more than 5,000 doctors from more than 2,000 hospitals and laboratories has tested the experimental therapy, which consists in transfusing the blood serum rich in antibodies from COVID-19 patients recovered to people fighting against the disease.

Of the 5,000 critically ill patients who received blood plasma transfusions for the study, less than 1% experienced serious adverse events. The death rate seven days after treatment was 14.9%, but the researchers noted that the infusion patients were already seriously ill and that the rate “does not seem excessive”.

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“These early indicators suggest that transfusion of convalescent plasma is safe in patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” says the report, which was written by researchers from several institutions, including the Mayo Clinic, Michigan State University and Johns Hopkins. .

The study was not peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal. The results were published on a public server, called MedRxiv, so that other scientists could quickly review the data.

The study was not designed to assess the effectiveness of treatment. But the researchers said the results were promising.

“Although this study was not designed to assess the effectiveness of convalescent plasma, we note with optimism the relatively low mortality in treated patients,” said the report.

Convalescent plasma therapy is not a new form of treatment. It has been used to fight epidemics of past viruses, including Ebola, influenza and SARS.

But it hasn’t been widely used in the United States for decades, and its effectiveness has never been scientifically proven due to a lack of robust testing.

Study notes that the most common complication of convalescent plasma therapy is the circulatory overload associated with transfusion (or TACO), which occurs when a patient cannot tolerate the increased blood volume resulting from plasma transfusion . Researchers were also concerned that the antibodies infused into patients could lead to the formation of new infections.

But the 5,000 transfusions studied resulted in few such complications, the report said.

A total of nearly 10,500 COVID-19 patients have now received treatment in facilities across the country, according to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, part of the national coalition, have used it on more than 350 COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Nicole Bouvier, one of the leaders in the hospital’s plasma program, said an analysis of their first 39 patients suggests that it is most effective when used in the early stages of the virus .

“It is not a magic bullet. It doesn’t cure everyone, ”she said. “But overall, patients who got convalescent plasma got better, faster, and more often than similar patients who didn’t get convalescent plasma. “

One of these patients was Claudia Garcenot, a woman from New York who contracted COVID-19 about six weeks ago.

Image: Claudia Garcenot (Chelo Keys)
Image: Claudia Garcenot (Chelo Keys)

Garcenot is the chief nurse at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, a busy hospital affected by an influx of coronavirus patients throughout the month of March.

One day towards the end of the month, Garcenot felt a wave of fatigue followed by shortness of breath. Her symptoms quickly worsened, prompting her to go to the hospital where she tested positive for COVID-19. A chest x-ray revealed that she also suffered from bilateral pneumonia.

Garcenot went home to recover but his condition worsened as his breathing became more difficult.

She rushed to the emergency room of her hospital.

“Of course, I’ve heard all of these horror stories about what’s going on with COVID,” said Garcenot. “You get sick. You are not feeling well. Then you get viral pneumonia and then you end up on a ventilator. ”

Image: Claudia Garcenot X-ray. (Mount Sinai Hospital System)
Image: Claudia Garcenot X-ray. (Mount Sinai Hospital System)

Garcenot was eventually admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan because no beds were available in his hospital. A few days later, when it became apparent that she was at risk of being placed on a ventilator, Garcenot discovered that she was a candidate for convalescent plasma therapy.

As the medical team described the process, the severity of his condition settled.

“I really wasn’t a nurse at the time,” said Garcenot. “I was a really scared and sick patient who feared to survive.”

She received two doses of convalescent plasma on April 5, a process that lasted four hours. Just over a day later, she woke up in the morning feeling like a different person.

“I remember taking that first deep breath,” said Garcenot. “Even though I still had tightness in my chest, I felt like I had oxygen. “

“I breathed again and I said to myself, ‘It must (be) the plasma,’ she added. “I felt like I won the lottery. “

Some 48 hours later, with his fever gone and his oxygen levels returned to normal, Garcenot was discharged from the hospital.

Although the researchers have not yet come to a conclusion on the effectiveness of convalescent plasma, Claudia Garcenot has done so.

“I really believe that having this plasma treatment changed the course of my illness,” she said.

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