Plasma Therapy No Treatment For COVID-19, Says Health Ministry

The bubble around plasma therapy has burst for the time being. Till the time its efficacy is proved, let us find out more about it.

New Delhi: Days after plasma therapy was being touted as an alternative to treating COVID-19 patients till the time a vaccine is found, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, burst the bubble on Tuesday. Terming that plasma therapy is at an experimental stage, the Ministry said considering it as treatment of Covid-19 was wrong, illegal and might create “life threatening” complications.

Addressing the media, Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry, Lav Agarwal said, “The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has stated clearly that there is no approved therapy for COVID-19, including plasma therapy. In fact, there is no approved therapy for Covid-19 anywhere in the world.”

Till the ICMR concluded its study of the plasma therapy for COVID-19, it would be unethical and illegal to call it a treatment for the coronavirus infection, he said.

The ICMR had initiated a nationwide study to check its efficacy. Until robust scientific proofs were available, he said, “We should use this therapy only for trial and study purposes. In fact, if the plasma therapy is not used as per the prescribed guidelines it could cause life-threatening complications.”

What is plasma?

It is the often-forgotten component in blood. It is the liquid part of blood, making up 55 percent of its overall content. When isolated on its own, blood plasma is a light yellow liquid. Along with water, plasma carries salts and enzymes.

The primary purpose of plasma is to transport nutrients, hormones and proteins to the parts of the body that need it. Cells also deposit their waste products into the plasma and the plasma, in turn, helps remove this waste from the body. Blood plasma also ushers the movement of all the elements of blood through the circulatory system.

What is Convalescent Plasma therapy?

It involves taking blood from a patient who has made a full recovery, who has convalesced or recovered from Coronavirus. The idea is that such a patient will have antibodies to the virus in the blood. Coronavirus antibodies are specific immune proteins that develop when a patient has an infection. They seek out and attack the coronavirus, destroying it before it can infect further parts of the body.

Once the blood is taken from the recovered patient, the plasma component containing these valuable antibodies is separated and given via transfusion to those suffering from coronavirus.

Why is it not considered safe?

Through this therapy, a sick person acquires only temporary passive immunisation. It lasts only till the time the injected antibodies remain in the bloodstream, usually less than a week. On the other hand, a vaccine, if developed, could provide life-long immunity against the pathogen.

A study in China found the therapy effective, albeit on small sample size, in treating Coronavirus patients. In this trial, a 200 ml dose of convalescent plasma was administered to 10 adult COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms. The patients witnessed significant improvement with the disappearance of the virus reported among seven patients without any severe adverse side-effects.

Is Plasma Therapy a new idea?

It was first used in the late 1800s by German physiologist Emil von Behring for his life-saving work developing a cure for diphtheria, a bacterial infection that was fatal for children. He injected children with antibodies to diphtheria taken from animals that had recovered from the disease with positive results.

Plasma therapy was used again to treat patients during the 1918 Spanish Flu and in 1934 Dr J Roswell Gallagher used it to fight a measles outbreak among a group of students in Pennsylvania.

The discovery of antibiotics and vaccines put plasma therapy on the back burner for many infectious diseases, but the recent emergence of viruses, such as the new coronavirus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), that have all spread through communities with no immunity and no effective vaccine, has highlighted its importance again. 





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