As I sit here writing this, one of my friends and colleagues is on a ventilator. He’s fighting for his life. He’s a very healthy guy who runs marathons; we even did some race training together a couple of years back. And now, he’s in critical condition and may not survive. He’s one of the numerous physicians and other healthcare workers to be stricken with COVID-19. I do not know if he is going to live or die, and it’s eating me up inside.
This virus that is killing so many of us is ruthless. It attacks all ages and does not care if you are healthy or not. People go down quickly, sometimes in a matter of minutes. As a medical community, we are losing this battle; we do not have enough treatment options for severe cases. Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, much-touted, do have merit and are the first-line treatment we are using. However, due to its publicity at the hands of our government, and through word of mouth in the medical community, we have a shortage. Doctors had been writing prescriptions for themselves and their whole families (unethically), and we are very quickly depleting our supply. It may be useful as prophylaxis to prevent the infection, but we do not have enough medication for that to be feasible at this time.
We also have little to no access in the U.S. to any antiviral therapy. Remdesivir is available directly through the company to a very small minority. Favipiravir, which is being widely tested and used in Japan, has shown great promise, but we have no access to it currently in the U.S. An emerging treatment, with huge potential, is plasma exchange. Plasma exchange allows us to take plasma from infected patients that have survived and recovered and transfuse that into patients who are critically ill with COVID-19. By doing so, we are able to immediately give those patients the protective antibodies that are in the donating person’s plasma, conferring them immunity and allowing for the neutralization of the virus. So far, reports from patients being given this therapy have shown recovery at higher rates compared to their counterparts.
What we are up against now is a huge dearth of available plasma. It is absolutely critical that every patient who has had COVID-19 and recovered donate their plasma. It could mean the difference between life or death for another person. Before writing this, friends of the stricken physician in Ohio mobilized an online campaign, reaching out to thousands and thousands of people to find a plasma donor. We need to do that one a much larger scale. We need to spread the word: if you’ve been sick and got better: Donate your plasma! Each of us has the ability to help save someone’s life during this pandemic.
Jenny Hartsock is a hospitalist who blogs at Doctor of a Certain Size.
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