Desperation for “unproven” Covid-19 medication

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Desperate calls for blood plasma to treat Covid-19 patients continue to appear on India’s social media platforms even as doctors have mixed views about the experimental therapy.

When people have Covid-19 or other viral diseases, their immune system responds by creating antibodies, which attack the virus. Over time the antibodies build up and can be found in plasma – the liquid portion of the blood.

India’s health authorities, like many around the world, have allowed the use of plasma to treat severely ill patients as Covid-19 continues to claim lives. The therapy also requires the consent of patients and their families.

But doctors and researchers remain divided over its efficacy. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently warned against its indiscriminate use.

Its own study found that the therapy was not associated with stopping patients from becoming severely ill or reducing mortality.

“That shows that we can’t discard plasma therapy yet,” Dr Naresh Trehan, founder of Medanta Hospital, told the BBC. His hospital was one of the early adopters of the therapy in India and “has reported satisfying results”.

Dr Trehan says that observational data from Medanta suggests that timing is a crucial factor in the therapy’s success.

“Given at a time when a patient is between stage two and three of the cytokine storm, the therapy can be useful. It doesn’t work when given in the late stage of the disease,” he says.

A cytokine storm happens when Covid-19 sends the body’s immune system into overdrive, triggering a self-destructive overreaction. “I would say the jury on plasma therapy is not home yet,” he adds.

Dr Om Shrivastava, an infectious diseases specialist at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital, agrees. His hospital was part of the ICMR’s study.

But he also believes that it’s too early to discard plasma therapy as major studies around the world have had differing results.