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June 12, 2020

Convalescent Plasma and COVID-19

Author Affiliations
  • 1St Joseph Mercy Hospital, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • 2Department of Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
JAMA. 2020;324(5):524. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.10699

Donated convalescent plasma may be beneficial to patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to boost their ability to fight the virus.

What Is Convalescent Plasma?

Most people who recover from COVID-19 develop antibodies (proteins that the immune system produces in response to infection) to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Antibodies are found in plasma, the yellow liquid portion of blood. Plasma is collected from donors who have recovered from COVID-19 through a process called apheresis, which uses a special machine to separate the blood into different components. The plasma is removed, while the rest of the blood components are returned into the donor’s body.

Potential Benefits of Convalescent Plasma

Convalescent plasma has been used to treat other infections and may be beneficial for COVID-19. Researchers hope that convalescent plasma can be given to patients with severe COVID-19 to boost their ability to fight the virus. Studies are underway to evaluate use of convalescent plasma as treatment for patients with severe COVID-19 and to prevent infection (prophylaxis) in certain high-risk patients exposed to COVID-19. Convalescent plasma might provide immunity by giving patients neutralizing antibodies for SARS-CoV-2. Although there is a lot that is unknown, convalescent plasma may work best for patients earlier in the disease course. Currently, convalescent plasma is being given to small numbers of hospitalized patients with severe or life-threatening COVID-19 illness. Several case reports suggest treatment is helpful, but larger studies are still needed.

Potential Risks of Convalescent Plasma

Plasma transfusions are safe and well tolerated by most patients. Side effects of convalescent plasma are similar to those of regular plasma transfusions. The most common side effect is a mild allergic reaction. Rare but serious side effects include problems with the heart or lungs, or infection. As with all blood products, convalescent plasma is thoroughly tested before use. All donated blood is screened for blood type compatibility as well as infections like hepatitis B and C, HIV, and many other less common infections. SARS-CoV-2 is not spread by blood, and there is no risk of transmission from recovered donors.

How to Donate Plasma

Currently, people who have recovered from COVID-19 who had a confirmed positive test result can donate plasma after they have been symptom free for at least 14 days. People who have recovered from suspected COVID-19 but never had a confirmed positive test result can also become donors if tests show they have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. All donors must meet other blood donation criteria. If you have recovered from COVID-19 and want to donate plasma, contact the Red Cross or a local blood bank for more information.

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Article Information

Published Online: June 12, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.10699

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Sources: Fung MK, Eder A, Spitalnik SL, Westhoff CM, eds. Technical Manual. 19th ed. AABB Press; 2017.

US Food and Drug Administration. Recommendations for investigational COVID-19 convalescent plasma.

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