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Ballad to treat COVID-19 patients with survivors’ plasma

Ballad Health said Thursday it will begin to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients with antibodies from survivors’ plasma.

“We would like to take plasma from people who have fully recovered and transfuse that into patients with life-threatening COVID-19 infections with the hope that these antibodies will neutralize some of the virus and help the patients recover,” Dr. Evan Kulbacki, a pathologist and medical director of Marsh Regional Blood Center, said during a news conference.

The blood center is part of Ballad Health, which is the predominant health care provider in Virginia’s far southwest coalfields and in Tennessee’s northeastern counties. CEO Alan Levine said having that relationship helped Ballad become one of the Mayo Clinic’s partners in investigating whether convalescent plasma therapy can successfully treat patients who are seriously ill with the novel coronavirus.

Plasma treatments are not themselves novel, as they were used beginning in the late 1800s to treat infectious diseases before antibiotics and vaccines were developed.

Antibodies developed by one person’s body may be used to fight an infection in another’s. But it is not yet known how effective this treatment may be with COVID-19. Since there is not a cure yet, the plasma treatment is being tried.

Dr. Amit Vashist, Ballad’s chief clinical officer, said preliminary studies are encouraging. As with any medical procedure, plasma transfer does carry risks, but Ballad said they are rare.

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