Simple blood donations can make a huge difference for patients battling COVID-19 and for donors who might learn something.

Coronavirus Updates, Your Health | one year ago

Blood Plasma Delivers Added Benefits for COVID-19 Patients, Survivors and Unknowns

Simple blood donations can make a huge difference for patients battling COVID-19 and for donors who might learn something.

Earlier this year, as COVID-19 was becoming a global health crisis, Atrium Health took part in an important study that eventually encompassed more than 2,700 medical sites, 14,500 physicians, and 105,000 patients.

"This large national study looked at the use of plasma at hospitals across the United States, to see if convalescent blood plasma was safe and potentially effective for treating COVID-19," says Lisa Davidson, MD, infectious disease physician at Atrium Health. "The study found that it was very safe and very few patients had any negative reactions. There’s a potential to help patients get better faster."

"Atrium Health was lucky to participate in that large, multicenter protocol," she says. "We treated several hundred patients and the benefits outweighed the risks."

Based on those exciting results, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for convalescent blood plasma as a treatment option for COVID-positive patients. Convalescent plasma is drawn from patients who have recovered from coronavirus. Now, the potentially lifesaving treatment is available to hospitalized patients across the country — but more blood donors are needed.

"We really want to get the word out and ask members of our community to consider donating blood and plasma," says Dr. Davidson. "This can help members of their own community, own family, and own workplace family potentially recover faster from COVID-19."

Blood Plasma and Infectious Diseases

Blood consists of multiple components. Red blood cells carry oxygen and white blood cells are part of our immune system. Plasma is the liquid part of blood and contains many nutrients and chemicals that are necessary to keep our bodies healthy.

Research in the early 1900s showed that plasma contains antibodies that can help fight infection. Before antibiotics were developed, plasma was used in treatments for infectious diseases.

"With the onset of antibiotics, we didn’t need plasma anymore," Dr. Davidson says. "But more recently, in outbreaks of MERS, SARS and even Ebola, we know that antibodies from patients who recovered can be given to patients who are critically ill and help them recover from life-threatening viral illness."

When COVID-19 started, the medical community expressed great interest in exploring convalescent plasma as a potential option for patients hospitalized with severe infections. "The theory is people who have recovered have high levels of antibodies to fight coronavirus in their blood," she says. "We can take the plasma and give it to patients in the hospital to help them get better faster."

Giving is Easy

There is never a bad time to donate blood. Likewise, plasma donations are always in season. Individuals who know they were infected with the virus and have been symptom free for at least 14 days can play an important role in the battle against COVID-19. All it takes is going to a blood donation center like OneBlood, informing the staff that you tested positive and since recovered, and declaring your desire to donate plasma.

"Each center has its own criteria and they’ll screen donors to make sure they meet the criteria," Dr. Davidson says. "After that, it’s really the same as donating blood as usual. They take your unit of blood and screen the plasma for any other sorts of infections to make sure it’s safe. Then the center matches it to patients in the hospital who are waiting for a plasma donation."

She says convalescent plasma, "a precious resource," is only available to be donated to patients sick enough to be hospitalized and needing significant levels of oxygen. It is not available for out-patient treatments. She also stresses that donors’ personal information is safe and not shared outside of the blood center.

Spreading this information is vital, particularly in minority communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Individuals who have been sick and recovered can donate and make a huge difference. There’s also a potential benefit for individuals who are uncertain whether they ever had COVID-19.

"If you want to get your antibodies tested, you can donate blood," Dr. Davidson says. "It’s now standard to test for COVID-19 antibodies with every blood donation. If you contain them, the blood bank will contact you and ask for your permission to be a plasma donor."

"We ask that if you’re interested in seeing if you’ve had COVID-19, or you recovered and you’re looking for a great way to help others, please consider donating," she says. "We really need donations."

Especially with flu season still ahead.

Visit OneBlood online for more information on plasma donation and to find a location near you.