Immune plasma therapy, complementary therapy for COVID-19 treatment, promises hope for Turkey, which is struggling with a rising death toll from the coronavirus. Officials announced Friday that a patient undergoing the treatment had partial signs of recovery.
İnönü University in the eastern province of Malatya had recently started applying the method to a patient diagnosed with COVID-19. The university’s president, professor Ahmet Kızılay, said they used plasma from a recovered coronavirus patient for the treatment of a 56-year-old patient in intensive care at their Turgut Özal Medical Center. “We started the transfer of plasma to the patient about three days ago. This is a very promising method, though it is only complementary,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA). Kızılay said they examined whether it had adverse effects on the patient’s health and so far, there were no findings. “It is confirmed that it is a safe therapy for this patient. We have good signs. The patient’s blood parameters, lung capacity and other findings show partial recovery signs. Still, it would be wrong to generalize that the same partial recovery will be seen in other patients. We have to apply it to more patients,” he said. Nevertheless, Kızılay is hopeful, pointing to the success of plasma therapy in other viral infections like Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Ebola, SARS and MERS, adding that their medical center was already using plasma therapy as a complementary treatment of other diseases for up to 5,000 patients per year.
Having enough plasma donors is key, and the Turkish Red Crescent is calling for all fully recovered coronavirus patients to donate.
The Turkish Red Crescent started testing plasma therapy as a possible treatment against the virus with a donation campaign launched earlier this week. Turkish Red Crescent President Kerem Kınık said the Health Ministry shared the information of about 400 recovered patients with them for the plasma collection campaign and that they were capable of receiving donations from 750 people daily. “We have facilities in Istanbul, Gaziantep, Trabzon, İzmir, Ankara, Adana, Samsun and Denizli for plasma donations, and we also have four mobile trucks that will visit other cities for donors. Donors can donate in three instances at one-week intervals,” he said.
This century-old complementary therapy has been used to fight off flu and measles outbreaks in the past. Using blood donated by patients who have recovered from COVID-19, medical experts are hoping that the serum therapy, tried more recently against SARS and Ebola, will offer effective treatment for the sick and temporary vaccine-like protection for health care workers and those with weak or suppressed immune systems. The therapy will test if giving infusions of survivors' antibody-rich plasma to COVID-19 patients who have been intubated in intensive care units and have begun to show alveolar damage or those having trouble breathing would boost their own body’s defenses to help fight off the virus. There are several prerequisites to be a plasma donor. Firstly, the patient must have tested positive for the coronavirus, so there must be evidence that they were, indeed, infected by it. Secondly, they must be discharged from the hospital and declared virus-free.
Plasma works using the same principle as a vaccine but unlike a vaccine, any protection would only be temporary and offer passive immunization. A vaccine – which contains weakened or inactivated viruses and bacteria or small parts of them – trains people’s immune systems to make their own antibodies against a target germ. When these germs enter the body again, the immune system now knows how to deal with or defeat them. The plasma infusion approach would similarly give people a temporary dose of someone else’s antibodies that are short-lived and require repeated doses.
A university hospital in southern Turkey is also ready to treat coronavirus patients with convalescent plasma therapy.
Dr. Alphan Küpesiz at the Akdeniz University Faculty of Medicine in Antalya province told AA that the only potential side effect is an allergic reaction as the plasma is injected into the patient.
"There was a study conducted in China (in which) all five critical patients given plasma recovered. This was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ... Blood type is also important," Küpesiz explained. "We will collect samples from those who want to be donors. A recovered patient can donate two samples a week with 48-hour intervals."
Starting this week, the university will begin immune plasma therapy, the university's president, Mustafa Ünal, said.
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