As of now, there are more than 350,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus worldwide out of which 100,600 cases have already recovered completely. The human body is able to fight foreign viruses and bacteria by creating specific antibodies against them. These antibodies circulate in the patient’s system for months to years anticipating re-infection. Some infectious disease experts believe blood transfusion from recovered cases may be beneficial in treating serious active cases.
This concept of transferring antibodies by blood transfusion is not a novel idea. Prior to mass production and use of vaccines, frequent outbreaks of measles, influenza, and mumps were treated with blood transfusions from recovered cases.
The principle behind this has some valid points as it could not only be effective in treating people with weaker immune systems, it can also be used to prevent serious infection in health workers who have the highest risk of being infected.
Currently, no vaccine or anti-viral drug has been developed for combating COVID-19. According to Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, and Dr. Liise-anne Pirofski of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, antibodies from recovered cases may offer a “stopgap” measure. Convalescent serum was previously used in small numbers of cases in recent viral epidemics such as the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak, the 2009 H1N1 Swine flu epidemic, and the 2003 SARS epidemic. The limited number of cases that were treated reported decreased morbidity and significant improvement in mortality rates.
Reports on those attempts indicate the antibody treatment generally reduced the severity of patients’ illnesses and improved survival. “In addition to public health containment and mitigation protocols, this may be our only near-term option for treating and preventing COVID-19. And it is something we can start putting into place in the next few weeks and months,” stated Casadevall.
In certain conditions, antibodies are isolated from the blood and transferred as immunoglobulins to patients. In China, reports of marked improvement have been seen in patients who received blood transfusions from recovered coronavirus cases. However, in the U.S, FDA approval must be obtained after sufficient evidence of its efficacy from clinical trials.
During a pandemic, going through the entire process of FDA approval which requires large-scale studies, prolonged time and labor may not be feasible. But protocols must be set if the FDA grants an Emergency Use Authorization.
“We’ll have to put protocols in place to make sure that the use of this sera is safe. We’re not talking about research and development—this is something that physicians, blood banks, and hospitals already know how to do and can do today,” said Casadevall.
In China, 245 patients infected with COVID-19 have been safely treated with blood transfusions with early recovery and a reduced degree of morbidity.