As Turkey starts testing plasma therapy as a possible treatment for COVID-19, a young Turkish man who recovered from the disease has volunteered to be among the first donors.
Fırat Oral, age 29, was admitted to a hospital in southern Izmir with a coronavirus infection on March 23 and recovered from the disease in 12 days after receiving treatment.
"I will be very happy if I am going to help someone to win against that virus. I want to be a donor. My blood will be helping to save someone’s life," he said.
“Staying in the hospital watching the ceiling is not the same as staying home and spending time with your family. I want to ask my nation to stay home as much as they can," he added.
Oral noted that his strong immune system helped him in fighting the virus in such a short time, adding that he does not have any chronic diseases.
“People should not think it was easy. It is a very dangerous disease as no one could say how I got infected,” Oral said, adding that he is the only one who tested positive among his colleagues.
“People should not go out unless they are obliged,” he said.
Emphasizing the importance of staying positive after catching the infection, Oral thanked his family and friends for showing support during the time he was in the hospital.
“I think the biggest medicine is to stay positive. My wife, friends, family and colleagues have supported me a lot, especially my friends from the factory where I work. They made a group chat on social media just to keep talking with me. We were in constant communication. God bless all of them. They constantly tried to keep me in a good mood,” Oral added.
Oral also underlined the hard work done by health care workers amid the pandemic, adding that they were taking very good care of him.
"When I left the hospital, I thanked our doctors and nurses. May God help them. They are in direct contact with people who have COVID-19,” he said.
Pandemic hospitals and Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) health centers across Turkey are gearing up to test if a 100-year-old treatment used to fight off flu and measles outbreaks in the days before vaccines will work for COVID-19, too. Using blood donated by patients who have recovered, medical experts are hoping that the serum therapy, tried more recently against SARS and Ebola, will offer effective treatment for the sick and offer 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 begun to show alveolar damage or those having trouble with breathing, would boost their own body’s defenses to help fight off the virus. Instead of therapy to replace all other conventional treatments, it will be used as a complementary therapy in severe cases.
There are several prerequisites to be a plasma donor as part of the scheme. According to Kerem Kınık, the president of the largest humanitarian organization in Turkey, the first and most important one is that 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. Then the waiting game begins. Fourteen days after the patient shows no symptoms of the disease, they are again tested via nasopharyngeal swab, the results of which should be negative for the virus and via blood tests, which see if the patient has produced the necessary antibodies. For this process, Kınık said, they will use the molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.
Plasma works around the same principle as a vaccine, but unlike a vaccine, any protection would only be temporary and offer passive immunization.
A vaccine trains people’s immune systems to make their own antibodies against a target germ – which could be attenuated or inactivated viruses and bacteria or small parts of them. When these germs enter our bodies again, they know 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.
Starting from next week, the Red Crescent and hospitals across Turkey will start collecting plasma.
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