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For Some COVID Patients, This Is Liquid Gold

Convalescent plasma reduces risk of severe illness in small study
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 7, 2021 1:13 PM CST
For Some COVID Patients, This Is Liquid Gold
In this June 12 file photo, a doctor holds a bag of blood plasma donated by a COVID-19 survivor at a blood bank in La Paz, Bolivia.   (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

(Newser) – The FDA gave "investigational" approval for COVID-19 patients to receive blood plasma from recovered patients in the spring, then expanded that approval in the summer. Now results from a clinical trial are in, and they "conclusively point toward … beneficial effects" if administered early on, reports the New York Times. A study out of Argentina involving 160 patients 65 and older, many of them with existing health conditions, found that those given convalescent plasma—the yellow liquid part of blood with antibodies—within three days of the onset of symptoms had a 48% lower risk of severe illness than those who received a saline solution. "That's kind of what we have been looking for, in terms of really having evidence," Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious disease expert not involved in the study, tells the Times.

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While pricier therapy can cost thousands of dollars, plasma infusions in Buenos Aires cost less than $200 per patient, says study author Dr. Fernando Polack, whose research appears in the New England Journal of Medicine. It's "more accessible," he adds, though only 28% of volunteers who donated plasma had a high enough concentration of antibodies to allow for effective treatment, per the Telegraph. One problem is that most COVID patients don't seek medical assistance within the first 72 hours of symptoms, and other studies have shown minimal or no benefit to very sick patients given plasma. "Once the virus is in the cells antibodies don't have much of a role in preventing illness," Polack tells the Telegraph. On the bright side, Titanji believes the treatment could work well in long-term care homes. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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