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Blood from recovered COVID-19 patients sought

MANILA, Philippines — Two doctors from St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City are asking recovered COVID-19 patients to donate blood to people still struggling with the disease.

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According to Dr. Francisco Lopez, a hematologist, and Dr. Mae Campomanes, a pulmonologist, convalescent plasma taken from a survivor is rich in antibodies that could possibly help if given to patients fighting SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“There’s already a published report from China,” said Lopez, head of the hospital’s bone marrow transplant program, when asked in a phone interview if he was optimistic about patients’ chances of recovery if given plasma, a blood component, from someone who had beaten the disease.

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“Critically ill patients in China were given COVID-19 convalescent plasma. It appeared in a publication. It took roughly seven to 12 days to see improvement and by the 14th day, the patients were able to get off the ventilator. Again, these were critically ill patients, not just those with fever and cough,” he said.

(The American Red Cross says on its website, www.redcrossblood.org, patients “who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus. This convalescent plasma is being evaluated as treatment for patients with serious or immediate life-threatening COVID-19 infections, or those judged by a health-care provider to be at high risk of progression to severe or life-threatening disease.”)

Experimental treatment

The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) has also initiated an experimental treatment using convalescent plasma.

Lopez said the same protocol had been used to treat patients with SARS, MERS-CoV and Ebola.

Campomanes, who practices at St. Luke’s in Taguig and Quezon City, said blood plasma would be considered an “add-on therapy” to complement supportive care already being given to severe cases like oxygenation and ventilatory support, and nutrition monitoring.

Read: St. Luke’s docs see big hope in COVID-19 survivors’ plasma in fight vs pandemic

Lopez said the hospital was given approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to administer blood plasma therapy to COVID-19 patients.

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“After the US-FDA approved [it in] March for critically ill patients, we asked the FDA in the Philippines. They basically said this [falls under] compassionate [treatment]. This is not something we do behind the back of [the] FDA. They are aware we are doing this,” Lopez said.

“The analogy is, if we need medicine for a patient that is not available in the Philippines, our hospital would have to import it. We write a letter to the FDA and they would grant approval to bring it in for compassionate use,” he added.

Lopez said five recovered patients had donated their convalescent plasma for the hospital’s COVID-19 patients.

Procedure

Hospital procedure requires volunteers to be cleared of symptoms of COVID-19 and undergo two nasal swabs that will also show they are negative for the new coronavirus.

The hospital then checks the volunteers for antibody titers that measure the amount of antibodies in a person’s blood. Once it is confirmed that the potential donors have COVID-19 antibodies, they undergo the standard checks for blood donors for the presence of HIV and other viruses that cause hepatitis and syphilis.

“We also check the blood count for calcium, albumin … Once [the] count [is] within limits, we can say [that the donors are] eligible to donate,” Lopez said.

Potential recipient

Campomanes said convalescent plasma recipients would be limited to “confirmed COVID-19 patients, followed by the critically ill in terms of needing a high oxygen support, ventilatory support or machines that would help them breathe, those with unstable blood pressure or have blood parameters indicating increasing inflammation.”

“A patient who is severely progressing in instability [is] also [a] potential recipient of blood plasma. [There needs to be] a certain level of illness. This is not recommended for mildly infected COVID-19 patients,” she added.

Campomanes said it was only on Saturday that convalescent plasma was given to COVID-19 patients in the hospital. “It is too soon to say if there is significant improvement.

Improvement in condition

But between the two who were given blood plasma, [we have seen] some improvement in their X-ray findings and their oxygenation status. We hope to find more improvements within the week.”

She added: “Remember this is an add-on therapy, not the only treatment. There is also supportive care added to this current regimen of convalescence.”

Lopez said a number of recovered patients were enthusiastic about donating blood.

“We need as many donors as possible because we still have to screen them. This is blood-specific. The more donors we have, the more we can test … There are those who recovered who are more than happy to return. One of them said in a text, ‘Get all the plasma from my body. [Get all you need].’ Despite their traumatic experience, they are still happy to share,” Lopez said.

Donors are requested to call St. Luke’s Quezon City at 8-723-0301 extension 4725 or St. Luke’s Global City-Taguig at 8-789-7700 extension 2096.

Donation drive

PGH said on Monday it had conducted its first convalescent blood plasma treatment on two of its severely ill coronavirus patients.

Jonas del Rosario, PGH spokesperson, said the hospital was hopeful that the two patients who had received blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors would show improvement within the next three days.

Early this month, the hospital launched a blood plasma donation drive, urging COVID-19 survivors to donate blood two weeks after testing negative for the coronavirus.

As of Monday, there were 242 people who had recovered from the disease.

Del Rosario said PGH had already collected blood plasma from seven donors and 18 others were awaiting collection.

WITH A REPORT FROM JOVIC YEE 

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, Francisco Lopez, Mae Campomanes, St. Lukes Medical Center
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