Doctors at Tampa General Hospital have seen improvement in a COVID-19 patient by treating the patient with blood plasma from coronavirus patients who have recovered. The plasma contains antibodies against the virus.
Dr. Guilherme Oliveira is chair of Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute.
“We set up a program. It’s called a convalescent plasma program. What that allows us to do is through our database of COVID[-19]-positive patients that have recovered, we reach out to these patients and ask them whether they’re willing to donate their plasma.
“The idea behind that is that plasma of patients that have recovered is full of COVID-specific antibodies that when infused in a patient with COVID infection without antibodies, helps that patient fight off the virus. That’s the program. And we’ve been able to start it, set it up, and treat our first patient.”
Have you seen any improvement in that patient?
“It’s early to say because it’s an n of 1. But the patient has improved dramatically. Within three days. So we’re very happy.”
Has this type of treatment ever been used on other viral diseases?
“So this is not new. It’s brought up every time we have an emerging new disease, infectious disease. It’s been used for viruses, it’s been used for bacterial diseases for which we’ve had neither a treatment nor a vaccine. The first time it was described it was in the 1800s. And we used it for the first time clinically against the Spanish Flu in 1918. We also used it against ebola, against H1N1, MERS and other forms of influenza.”
When a patient is deciding whether or not to donate their plasma, what are some things they should be concerned about? Is it a difficult procedure or is it not very difficult?
“It’s very simple. It’s just a regular blood donation. So anybody can donate and it doesn’t matter what kind of blood type or blood group you are, as long as you have had the disease and you have been symptom-free for at least two weeks.
“This is what happens. We call patients that we know have had the disease for more than two or three weeks and we ask them, ‘Are you feeling ok?’ And they say, ‘Yes.’ Then we ask them, ‘How long have you been symptom-free? Has it been more than two weeks?’ They say, ‘Yes.’
“At that point what we do is we offer to go to their home or for them to go to one of our sites and get tested. And if they test negative, then we ask them whether or not they’d be willing to donate.”
Based on how much plasma you have right now, how many patients could you treat?
“That’s a hard question to answer. I know that we’re stockpiling. We’re building our stock. I think the easier answer would be to say that should we have more patients that are sick enough to receive this treatment, we would be able to treat them. As long as we don’t run into a situation similar to what happened in New York. Which I don’t think we will, here.”
What can you say about the current caseload at TGH?
“It’s not too bad, thank the good Lord. We’ve been having [a total case load of] around 9 to 14 patients every day in the hospital with COVID, of which about 8 to 9 are in the intensive care unit.
“We’ve been able to send several patients home, we’ve been able to take several patients off the ventilator and recover them. We’ve had a very minimal number of deaths.
“So what I can tell you at TGH is we’re very well-positioned to treat our patients. We have plenty of PPEs, we have good numbers of ventilators. We’re very well organized.
“We’ve sectioned off complete areas, several units of the hospital just dedicated to treat these patients in a negative-pressure environment makes it safer for everyone. We’ve been able to deal very comfortably with our caseloads so far.”
The number of people hospitalized in Florida due to symptoms of COVID-19 continues to grow steadily.
It’s now at more than 4,500 – that’s more than 200 more than Wednesday. According to the state’s Department of Health website, updated Thursday afternoon, 960 people have died from COVID-19 in the state, meaning more than 60 people died since yesterday’s tally.
More than 28,800 people have tested positive in Florida. There are almost certainly more cases than that because only a small percentage of Floridians has been tested.
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