Patients who have recovered from COVID-19 may have something special to help current patients recover, and it’s in their blood.
Researchers are studying the use of convalescent plasma therapy — and it’s already showing positive results at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Uptown.
One patient there with symptoms of the coronavirus was given convalescent plasma therapy, an infusion of blood plasma from a recovered coronavirus patient, said Dr. Suzanne Pham, the medical director of the COVID-19 Response Team at Weiss. Within 24 hours of the infusion, the patient’s oxygen assistance was lessened and after three days they were discharged.
“This patient was already moderately symptomatic and it took about a week to get the plasma, but despite the wait time they still responded really nicely,” Pham said. “But each individual needs to be looked at case by case.”
Plasma from previously sick coronavirus patients contains antibodies of the virus, which are then given to people currently infected through an IV.
While the trials of this therapy are just starting in Chicago, it’s not new.
Dr. Maria Lucia Madariaga is the surgeon leading trials of the therapy at UChicago Medicine. She said it was used during the 1918 Spanish flu, and the SARS and MERS outbreaks. Other countries have been doing similar tests with positive results, she said.
One big question is how treatment can work for some patients and not others.
“We’re trying to understand if this process needs to happen earlier in the course of the illness or if it should be reserved for people who have moderate or severe signs of the illness already,” Pham said.
Both hospitals are still in the beginning stages of testing, with trails that started in April. But both doctors say that this type of treatment could be potentially used on a large scale.
“Obviously this all depends on people donating plasma. The supply was low at first because not many people had recovered,” Madariaga said. “But as time goes on, with more people recovering the plasma supply will increase.”