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Central Texans Who Have Recovered From COVID-19 Begin Donating Plasma To Treat Others

A health worker screens a driver at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in South Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A health worker screens a driver at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in South Austin.

We Are Blood collected plasma Wednesday from a third person who has recovered after testing positive for COVID-19. The plasma – the part of blood without red blood cells – could contain antibodies to help current patients with the coronavirus disease.

In addition to the standard blood donation criteria, donors need to be symptom-free for at least 29 days – or 14 days if they’ve had a subsequent negative test result. So far, the Central Texas blood bank has collected six units of plasma from three people. The organization is checking the qualifications of more than 80 others who have signed up to donate

“This has been used in a variety of diseases where we don’t have good therapy,” said Dr. Kristin Mondy, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Dell Medical School.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the experimental treatment last month.

In general, Mondy said, viral diseases respond best to vaccines, though. 

“But since we don’t have a vaccine yet and we don’t really have other therapies that are working really well, this is a good idea," she said. 

Mondy said the current treatment for patients in the hospital can include fever-suppressant therapy, fluids, mechanical ventilation and different body-positioning techniques to help them breathe. 

She said transfusing convalescent plasma into a patient presents low risks overall because of good standard blood-screening processes.

“I think that’s another reason why [there's a lot of interest in] convalescent plasma," she said, “because it does have a good safety profile.”

If use of the plasma is successful, Mondy said, there should be quick improvements in a patient’s fever, blood pressure and oxygen requirements.

Dell Medical used the plasma treatment for the first time on a patient Saturday. Although the patient is still on a ventilator, Mondy said, he’s showing improvement in terms of his fever and oxygen needs. She couldn't say definitively whether that's because of the plasma. The team will need more patients to undergo the treatment to know if it’s effective.

The pool of donors is relatively small because of limited testing availability and a lack of access to quality tests that could measure the presence of antibodies in the blood. Mondy said existing COVID-19 tests aren't widely available and their accuracy is unclear because there haven’t been “gold standard” clinical trials to test them. 

For now, the researchers are relying on people who had a documented positive nasal swab to enter the donor pool. 

Got a tip? Email Sangita Menon at Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.

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Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.
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