Convalescent Plasma – What You Need to Know
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
There has been a lot in the news recently about the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issuing an emergency use authorization (EUA) for what is known as convalescent blood plasma (CBP) for the treatment of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2).
Its use for Covid-19 is limited, for now, to an investigational basis for hospitalized patients. This is because research shows that CBP may be effective in treating Covid-19 and that the potential benefits currently outweigh the known and potential risks. These include possible allergic reactions, lung damage and infection.
Similar to the previous buzz and hope generated by hydroxychloroquine, you need to know that CBP is not any type of “miracle cure” for this disease, for which there is currently neither a cure nor a vaccine. It’s also good to keep in mind that there is currently a good amount of debate in the medical community over the true benefits and safety of CBP as a therapeutic for Covid-19.
Some researchers endorse the EUA because of its possible benefits while others in the scientific community feel the data are, as yet, inconclusive. This situation, of course, has the potential to confuse patients, caregivers and doctors alike.
For its part, the FDA pointed out that while initial studies show that blood plasma from patients who have recovered from Covid-19 has the potential to help treat patients who currently have the disease, researchers need to continue with clinical trials before a definitive conclusion can be reached. As such, the FDA made the emergency order since, in their view, it “is reasonable to believe that Covid-19 convalescent plasma may be effective in lessening the severity or shortening the length of Covid-19 illness in some hospitalized patients.”
Using Blood Plasma to Fight Viruses is Not New
The idea of using blood plasma from people who have recovered from a virus or bacterial infection has been around for well over a century. The concept is actually quite simple: Our immune systems fight off invading pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, by producing antibodies. These antibodies continue to circulate in our blood after we recuperate from the disease to help protect us from future infections from the same pathogen.
This is why, for example, once you have had measles, you usually don’t get it again – your immune system is primed to be on the lookout for the measles virus to prevent it from infecting you again.
So, the thinking goes, that by giving a patient the blood plasma of someone who has already had a disease, it should be possible to “jump start” an immune response to the disease in the person receiving the antibodies contained in the plasma. To date, CBP has been used to treat mumps in 1915, measles in 1916, polio in 1916, the Spanish Flu of 1918, scarlet fever in the 1920s, the SARS-CoV-1 flu outbreak of 2003, the MERS outbreak of 2012 and, more recently, Ebola in 2015.
It was first used to combat diphtheria in 1892 and was used to treat pertussis until around 1970. CBP has also shown possible applications in cancer therapy. According to the World Health Organization, CBP has been effective with treating some diseases and not with others. For example, in the case of dengue fever CBP has been shown to promote replication of the virus that causes this disease. In general, however, use of CBP is not as common as it once was because of the development of antibiotics.
What You Can and Should Be Doing Now
Given the speed at which vaccine trials and new therapeutics in the battle against Covid-19 are being announced, it could be tempting to become complacent and let down your guard thinking that “they will have a cure or a vaccine soon.”
The reality is that while there is impressive progress being made, no one knows when – or even if – there will be a vaccine or a “magic bullet” cure. So, as Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, recently said, “Do the right thing today.”
The “right thing” includes three important steps that you can continue to be doing – or start doing if you have not yet done so – to reduce your risk of contracting the virus that causes Covid-19 and to minimize the risk of developing serious complications if you do.
The first, of course, is to follow the “Three W” guidelines that everyone is familiar with by now: Wash your hands, Watch you distance, Wear a mask.
Government guidelines are to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds (which is about how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” two times) or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available. This is especially important after being out in public where you can’t avoid touching things such as door handles, shopping carts or ATM machines.
The second is to address those conditions that have been shown to increase your risk of Covid-19 complications. These include quitting smoking if you still smoke and avoiding second-hand smoke; effectively managing your diabetes if you have it or taking steps along with your doctor to reduce the chances of your developing it, especially if you have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic; achieving and maintaining a healthy weight; making sure your nutritional needs are met; and taking good care of your cardiovascular system.
And, last but not least, it is critical to do all you can to protect your first line of defense against any pathogen – your immune system. This includes getting the right nutrition; doing regular checks of your mineral, vitamin and antioxidant levels; getting enough exercise (especially cardiovascular exercise); keeping your liver healthy; protecting your lymphatic system; and talking with your doctor or other competent healthcare provider about medications (prescription and over-the-counter) that could weaken your immune system. You also should consider taking probiotics, which may help strengthen the immune system, and try to manage your stress, which can wreak havoc on the immune system.
Enjoy your healthy life!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.