Convalescent plasma (kon-vuh-LES-unt PLAZ-muh) therapy is an experimental treatment that some doctors are using for people with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
No drug has been proved to be safe and effective for treating COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't approved any drugs specifically to treat people with COVID-19.
But, people who've recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies — proteins the body uses to fight off infections — to the disease in their blood. The blood from people who've recovered is called convalescent plasma. Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood.
Researchers hope that convalescent plasma can be given to people with severe COVID-19 to boost their ability to fight the virus. It also might help keep people who are moderately ill from becoming more ill and experiencing COVID-19 complications.
If you've had COVID-19 and recovered from it, consider donating blood through the American Red Cross or your local donation center. Either can provide information about the donation process.
Convalescent plasma therapy may be helpful for people with COVID-19 who aren't helped by other treatments. Some people with COVID-19 become very sick and don't respond to other treatments or drugs. These people often develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) — a severe lung condition. They often require mechanical assistance, such as a ventilator, to breathe. These people also are in danger of developing organ failure.
It could also help other people who may have a higher risk of serious illness, such as people with chronic medical conditions, for example, heart disease or diabetes, or those who have weakened immune systems. Convalescent plasma could help these people from getting sicker if they get COVID-19.
Convalescent plasma might also be considered for family members or health care workers who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 to potentially prevent them from getting COVID-19.
Doctors may choose to enroll the person with COVID-19 in an expanded access program and order convalescent plasma for him or her. This type of program provides access to investigational new drugs outside of clinical trials. This type of program is sometimes necessary when a disease is very severe or life-threatening, and there is no available treatment.
Blood and plasma have been used to treat many other conditions, and they're usually very safe. The risk of contracting COVID-19 infection from receiving convalescent plasma therapy hasn't been tested yet. But researchers believe that the risk is very low because the plasma donor has fully recovered from the infection.
Convalescent plasma therapy carries the risk of:
- Allergic reactions
- Lung damage and difficulty breathing
- Transmission of infections, including HIV and hepatitis B and C
The risk of these infections is very low, because donated blood must meet certain requirements outlined by the FDA. Before donated blood can be used, it must be tested for safety. It then goes through a process to separate out blood cells so that all that's left is plasma with antibodies.
Although many people experience no symptoms, others have mild to severe medical complications that lead to death in some people.
Your doctor may consider you a candidate for convalescent plasma therapy if you're seriously ill with COVID-19 in the hospital. Your doctor will decide if it will be beneficial for you and may enroll you in the treatment program. If you or a family member has questions about convalescent plasma therapy, ask your doctor.
Your doctor will order convalescent plasma that is compatible with your blood type from your hospital's local blood supplier.
Before the procedure
Before convalescent plasma therapy, your health care team prepares you for the procedure. A health care team member inserts a sterile single-use needle connected to a tube (intravenous, or IV, line) into a vein in one of your arms.
During the procedure
When the plasma arrives, the sterile plasma bag is attached to the tube and the plasma drips out of the bag and into the tube. It takes about one to two hours to complete the procedure.
After the procedure
Because this investigational therapy hasn't yet been tested, you'll be closely monitored after the convalescent plasma procedure.
Your doctor will record your response and reaction to the treatment. He or she may record how long you needed to stay in the hospital or if you needed help with breathing or other therapies following the convalescent plasma procedure.
It's not yet known if convalescent plasma therapy will be an effective treatment for COVID-19. You might not experience any benefit.
However, this treatment might improve your ability to recover from the disease.
The collective results from people receiving convalescent plasma therapy can provide information about the effectiveness of the therapy and whether it can become an approved therapy to treat COVID-19. In preliminary treatment, many people have benefited from convalescent plasma therapy. Researchers continue to evaluate the results from people who received the therapy.
By studying results of this therapy for COVID-19, doctors are getting closer to finding a treatment. In addition, learning more about the use of convalescent plasma therapy now will help health care workers be better prepared to provide optimal patient care.