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Convalescent Plasma Can Help COVID-19 Patients, But It's In Short Supply in Central Illinois

(AP Photo/Juan Karita, FILE)
In this Friday, June 12, 2020 file photo, a doctor holds a bag of blood plasma donated by a COVID-19 survivor at at blood bank in La Paz, Bolivia.

Studies show blood plasma donated by people recently recovered from COVID-19 can provide some real benefits to those currently battling the disease. But in central Illinois, there's not enough to go around.

Tim Shelley recently chatted with UnityPoint Health-Methodist Chief Medical Officer Dr. Samer Sader about all things convalescent plasma.

Dr. Samer Sader: Convalescent plasma is part of your blood that contains proteins called antibodies. So when somebody has been exposed to a SARS coronavirus, and they've recovered, they've created these antibodies. And when people collect that plasma, then we're able to give that plasma to a patient who has a brand new infection. And that we hope allows that patient to recover faster or not have as many complications from the COVID-19 infection that they may have. And as a reminder to your listeners, Coronavirus SARS-2 is really the name of the virus. When you have an infection, we call it COVID-19.

Tim Shelley: We've been several months in this pandemic now. So convalescent plasma's had a chance to be used quite a bit. If you can just talk a little bit about some of the effects you've seen so far from its usage.

SS: So the original study of the convalescent plasma was done by Mayo, and we participated on that research study here. And we know from other illnesses, like for example, Ebola, in the past, and other viral infections that we can take somebody who's recovered from those illnesses, take a convalescent plasma from them, give it to another person. And usually that has a beneficial effect in this specific population.

With COVID-19, people who receive convalescent plasma that had a lot of certain antibodies required less oxygen were in the hospital less frequently, and required less mechanical ventilation, meaning less people got intubated after they got the infection. And those are the population that we're using it in. And currently, the supply is very low. And we've actually had patients that qualified to receive the plasma that were unable to receive it because their supply in our region is so low.

TS: On that topic. We now have thousands of people right here in Central Illinois who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered. So, of those people, who might be qualified to donate convalescent plasma?

SS: That's an excellent question, Tim. Anybody who's recovered and is approximately 28 days post infection can be a donor. The best donors are those who had what we call moderate to severe symptoms, so that people who just tested positive and had very mild symptoms or no symptoms, it may not be as good as somebody who had significant symptoms. But at this point, we're so low that I encourage anybody who has been positive to consider donation.

TS: And to do that, I just go to my local Blood Center and I tell them, I want to donate convalescent plasma.  I've tested positive for COVID-19, I've recovered, I meet the criteria? How does that work?

SS: The best way to do it is if you have a test in your hand that says you were positive and you know the date, then you can go to bloodcenter.org, or you can go to the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center or to the Red Cross website and donate through them. Bloodcenter.org is probably the easiest and the fastest.

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