COVID-19 survivors sought for blood, plasma donations in hopes of finding virus cure

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 03 2020 03:40 PM | Updated as of Apr 03 2020 04:27 PM

Bayanihan na at the University of the Philippines- Philippine General Hospital. Photo from PGH Medical Foundation

MANILA — The Philippine General Hospital has issued a call for COVID-19 survivors to donate blood for the hospital’s experimental treatment for patients with severe symptoms of the disease.

PGH, which is one of the country’s referral hospitals for COVID-19, asked fully recovered patients to contact Dr. Sandy Maganito via 09178053207 for the donations.

Dr. Jonas Del Rosario, PGH spokesperson, told ABS-CBN News that the hospital’s hematology and pathology divisions are looking into convalescent plasma therapy since there is still no known cure for COVID-19, which has infected more than a million people around the world.

The transfusion therapy would require COVID-19 survivors to donate their blood or plasma, which contains antibodies against the disease.

“What we want to do is to transfuse convalescent plasma of patients who have recovered from COVID-19,” Del Rosario said.

“Now we thought about this because in the past, convalescent plasma taken from a person who has recovered from an infection and contain neutralizing antibodies were found to be helpful in other pandemics,” he said.

“That included the H1N1 influenza virus pandemic, the 2003 SARS-CoV-1 epidemic and the 2012 MERS-COV epidemic. They used this concept and results were promising with no significant adverse effects.”

China earlier used the same procedure to treat some of its patients. The World Health Organization said then that it is a “very valid” approach to test.

Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO's health emergencies program, said back in February that convalescent plasma had been “effective and life-saving” against diseases.

“You are essentially giving the new victim's immune system a boost of antibodies to hopefully get them through the very difficult phase,” Ryan said. “So it must be given at the right time, because it mops up the virus in the system, and it just gives the new patient's immune system a vital push at the time it needs it. But it has to be carefully timed and it's not always successful."

 

FULLY RECOVERED

Del Rosario assured the public that only patients who have fully recovered will be accepted as donors.

As of Friday, PGH has received 21 inquiries with 11 survivors initially qualifying.

Del Rosario said donors should have already been discharged from the hospital and are feeling well if they were not admitted in the first place.

They should also test negative for COVID-19 “which means their virus is out of the system.”

He said it should also be 2 weeks since they tested negative to be sure.

“These potential donors have to go and pass the standard for blood donation,” he added. “They have to be healthy and they shouldn’t be sick of anything.”

FINDING CURE FOR THE SEVERELY ILL

Del Rosario said the plasma, which is extracted from blood, will be transfused to patients who are “severely ill” with COVID-19.

“When we say severely ill, they are having respiratory distress. They need oxygen or some of them might even have to be on a ventilator. They have X-ray findings of pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome,” he said.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome is usually observed in severe COVID-19 cases. This results in lung damage as fluid fills the lungs.

Because it is experimental, the treatment has yet to be approved by the World Health Organization or the Food and Drug Administration.

But Del Rosario said it will be for “compassionate use” for severely ill patients and that the benefits will outweigh the risk.

The only risk that they know of are common blood transfusion reactions and infection.

He said the plasma treatment will only supplement existing medical care or medicines being given to the patients.

In its Facebook page, the PGH Blood Donor Center also called for Metro manila residents who can donate blood for other patients.

“Mobile blood drives have been suspended and the number of volunteer donors has sharply declined. However, the demand for blood remains constant,” the post said. It said it can accommodate donors while ensuring physical distancing measures.

COVID-19 survivors can contact 09178053207 for plasma donations while regular blood donors can contact the PGH Blood Bank at 8554-8400 local 3017, 0905 720 1890 or 0947 488 2817.