What is convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19?

By: Sohail Rao, MD, MA, DPhil

President and CEO, DHR Health Institute for Research and Development

There has been a recent increase in SARS-CoV-2 (virus that causes COVID-19) infection in the Rio Grande Valley which has the potential to overwhelm the healthcare systems. Since no drug has been approved by the FDA to be effective in treating COVID-19, the alternative is to use plasma from patients who have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection.

When a patient is infected with SARS-CoV-2, their immune system starts to develop protective responses to essentially destroy the virus. In that process, proteins called antibodies (also called immunoglobulins; Ig) are produced which bind to the virus and eliminates it from the body. Early in the infection process, the immune system produces immunoglobulin M (IgM), followed by immunoglobulin G (IgG); the latter are much more effective in destroying the virus.

Plasma (the liquid portion of the blood) from patients who have recovered from COVID 19 is called convalescent plasma. It is argued that by boosting their ability to fight infection, transfusion of convalescent plasma which contains anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies can be of benefit to patients suffering from severe and life-threatening COVID-19. Transfusion of convalescent plasma can also help manage high-risk population who have chronic medical conditions (such as heart diseases, diabetes, etc) and/or those who have weakened immune system.

The convalescent plasma program is available to all members of the community in the Rio Grande Valley. A consortium of nine regional hospitals, including DHR Health, along with Hidalgo and Cameron Counties and Vitalant, was created to ensure the effective delivery of plasma to patients. To date, 290 units of convalescent plasma has been transfused in 206 severe and life-threatening COVID-19 patients in the Valley. Donation of convalescent plasma is a relatively simple and a safe process. If you are a patient who has recovered from COVID-19 and would like more information, please call at 956-215-3166/504-444-2318.