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Those who have recovered from the coronavirus might be able to help others who are sick. Learn what convalescent plasma is and how it might play a role in the treatment of COVID-19.

By: Gustaaf de Ridder, MD, PhD, pathologist at Geisinger

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, researchers are looking for effective, proven ways to treat COVID-19. Because this strain of the coronavirus is new, most treatments are still under investigation. However, information suggests that convalescent plasma might help some people recover from COVID-19.

Here’s what we know about convalescent plasma, how it works and, if you’ve recovered from COVID-19, how you can donate.

What is convalescent plasma?

When someone gets a virus like COVID-19, their immune system creates unique infection-fighting antibodies. Once recovered, these antibodies live in their blood plasma, or the liquid part of their blood. Blood plasma with antibodies is called “convalescent plasma.”

How does it work?

Through a process similar to blood donation, those who have recovered from COVID-19 can donate their blood plasma. Once tested, the blood plasma is then given (or transfused) to someone who is severely sick with the virus. 

Since the donor’s blood plasma contains the infection-fighting antibodies, it’s believed that it might boost the immune system of the person who is sick with COVID-19, which may help them recover.

The use of convalescent plasma isn’t new. In fact, the treatment has been used in various infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics, including measles, mumps, H1N1 influenza and Ebola.

See how it works

Is convalescent plasma a treatment for COVID-19?

Right now, it is not known if convalescent plasma is an effective treatment for COVID-19. However, there’s some evidence that suggests it can help some patients with COVID-19. 

While convalescent plasma transfusions are generally safe and well-tolerated by many people, further investigation is still needed to determine if it can shorten the duration of illness, reduce the severity of symptoms or prevent death associated with COVID-19.

Because there isn’t an approved treatment for COVID-19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is allowing the use of convalescent plasma for treatment in certain people.

What are the requirements for donating blood plasma?

If you’ve had COVID-19 and have fully recovered, you may be eligible to donate plasma. At Geisinger, we partner with the Miller-Keystone Blood Center for collection of convalescent plasma donations.
 
To be eligible to donate, the donor must:

  • Be able to show that they were diagnosed with COVID-19 (either by a positive test for the COVID-19 virus or antibodies).
  • Be symptom-free for at least 14 days.
  • Meet general guidelines for donating blood.

What to expect when donating plasma

Donating plasma is similar to the whole blood donation process, which takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete. The donation process includes:

  • Registering at home.
  • Taking a home screening by completing a medical questionnaire.
  • Having your blood pressure, temperature and iron levels checked prior to donation.
  • Donating your plasma at the center.
  • Resting and having refreshments following your donation.

How to donate plasma for COVID-19

If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, here’s how you can donate plasma at the Miller-Keystone Blood Center:

  1. Call your doctor or, if you’re a Geisinger patient, message them through myGeisinger and ask them to complete and sign this form.
  2. Your doctor can return the form to you through myGeisinger, email, fax or postal mail.
  3. When you have the completed form from your doctor, call the Miller-Keystone Blood Center at 800-223-6667 and make an appointment to give convalescent plasma. Remember to bring the completed form to your appointment, or you won’t be able to donate. 

Learn more about convalescent plasma donation here.

If you haven’t had COVID-19, you can still help.

If you haven’t had COVID-19, you can still donate blood, which will help community hospitals as they perform emergency surgeries and resume elective surgeries. To donate blood, schedule an appointment at the Miller-Keystone Blood Center.

Next steps:

For the latest updates, visit our Coronavirus Resource Center

Find answers to COVID-19 FAQs

Learn more about blood and plasma donation

Man squeezing a ball in his palm while donating blood plasma

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