Blood of Coronavirus Survivors Could Help Others Fight

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If you’re a coronavirus survivor, your blood could help doctors figure out how to fight the virus. 

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, are racing to help patients who are critically ill with COVID-19. 

“There isn't a lot of time for everyone who has this disease and we have to act quickly and competently to do the best that we can,” said Dr. Kamille West. She’s the medical director of Blood Services at NIH’s clinical center and is leading a clinical trial that's underway now. 

A procedure known as convalescent plasma treatment essentially gives a sick patient an infusion of someone else's antibodies to treat a disease.  

The experiment desperately needs donors. 

“If you recovered from COVID-19 then that means your body has antibodies against the virus,” said West. “So your plasma can help someone who is currently sick with the disease right now.” 

To take part in the experiment, you need to have been symptom-free for at least 14 days and have a lab test showing you tested positive. West said that part has been challenging because of the shortage of tests and because different states are handling tests differently. 

Many people have wanted to help but some are not eligible to donate yet. 

FDA guidelines are changing every day and the NIH is collecting contact information in case you don’t qualify now but will qualify later. 

Plasma infusions have been done for more than a century and were used during the 1918 flu pandemic, and more recently during the SARS and Ebola outbreaks. The technique has had success in small studies but there’s not enough data yet to prove that it works. That hope is enough. 

“It’s easy to do, relatively speaking, rather than creating a drug or making a vaccine,” West said. 

As with any experimental treatment, there are risks. But blood transfusions are common and generally safe.

If you would like to learn more about the NIH trial on convalescent plasma treatment, email or call 301-496-1048.

If you have not donated blood before and are not sure if you’re eligible, please check the NIH Blood Bank website to learn more. 

CORRECTION (April 9, 2020, 9 p.m.): An earlier version of this story called it a clinical trial. It is an experimental treatment. A clinical trial would be the next step in the process.

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