British Health Service to Use Plasma Transfusions to Treat Coronavirus

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The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom will begin treating coronavirus patients with plasma transfusions from those who have recently recovered from the Chinese virus.

Britain’s medicines watchdog has approved the use of blood recovered from Covid-19 patients as a treatment for the Chinese virus. The plasma of recovered patients is thought to contain antibodies that could be used to strengthen the immune systems of patients.

“We have been working with the National Blood Service in anticipation of this issue, and in early March, we agreed to this procedure,” the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said in comments reported by The Telegraph.

“This will mean that patients who are recovering from Covid-19 can receive plasma from another patient who has recovered.”

The method of treatment was used by doctors in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic to treat patients. Plasma transfusions were also used experimentally in 2003 during the outbreak of SARS, another form of coronavirus.

Since a vaccine for the Chinese virus is unlikely to be ready before the end of the year, doctors have sought to find other means of treating it.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States approved the use of “convalescent plasma” to treat coronavirus patients.

“It is possible that convalescent plasma that contains antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) might be effective against the infection… Although promising, convalescent plasma has not been shown to be effective in every disease studied,” the FDA said in a statement.

So far there has been very limited usage of plasma in coronavirus patients. However, a small study conducted in Shenzhen, China, is said to have shown that the method could be a potential treatment.

In the study, five critically ill coronavirus patients were given plasma transfusions from recovered patients. All five patients were said to have dramatically improved following the procedure.

New York State will also begin conducting a trial of the plasma transfusion method. The Manhattan-based New York Blood Center has started collecting blood from recently recovered patients, however, the testing will be limited until more people donate their blood.

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, are also set to begin human trials of the method after it was approved by the FDA.

“Giving serum from newly recovered patients is a Stone Age approach, but historically it has worked,” said Dr Jeffrey Henderson, Associate Professor of Medicine and Molecular Microbiology at Washington University.

“This is how we used to prevent and treat viral infections like measles, mumps, polio, and influenza, but once vaccines were developed, the technique understandably fell out of favour and many people forgot about it,” Henderson added.

“Until we have specific drugs and vaccines for Covid-19, this approach could save lives,” he explained.

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