Midwest blood banks seek recovered patient plasma for tests

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O’FALLON, Mo. – A blood bank operating in Missouri and three other Midwestern states is seeking plasma donations from people who have recovered from the coronavirus in hopes of helping those still battling the disease.

The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center is seeking people who tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and have not had symptoms for at least 28 days. The blood bank operates in parts of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. The first donations are expected within the next few days.

“We think everything we collect is going to be used somewhere and likely the demand for this treatment will exceed what we can collect,” blood center spokesman Kirby Winn said Friday.

Doctors around the world are turning to blood plasma infusions in the hopes of helping patients recover from COVID-19. It’s not certain that it works, but the Food and Drug Administration on April 3 announced that a national study being led by the Mayo Clinic would offer experimental plasma therapy to COVID-19 patients and track how they fared.

The therapy was used during the 1918 flu pandemic and has been used against measles, bacterial pneumonia and other infections. In recent years, it was used to treat victims of Ebola, SARS and the H1N1 virus.

The idea is that when an infection occurs, the body begins to make proteins called antibodies specially designed to target that pathogen. Those antibodies then remain in a survivor’s blood – specifically, in the plasma – for months or even years.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But Echols noted that black people are already disproportionately affected by some preexisting conditions, including heart disease and diabetes, that make the coronavirus more dangerous.

Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, which has been tracking COVID-19 cases worldwide, reported Friday that Missouri has had 3,624 cases of the disease, including 92 deaths. State health officials reported 3,539 cases of COVID-19 and 77 deaths as of Thursday afternoon. Missouri’s health director said the state takes extra time to vet each reported death before adding it to its official count.

The deaths now include six residents of Frontier Health & Rehabilitation, a nursing home in St. Charles, county officials said late Thursday. Fifty residents there have tested positive, as have 10 staff members who are all quarantined at their homes.

Missouri’s social services agency said food banks will start handing out 25-pound food packages this week at mobile and drive-thru sites. The announcement came Thursday, when it was announced that an additional 91,000 Missourians had applied for unemployment benefits last week. Nearly 238,000 people filed new unemployment benefit claims in Missouri in the three weeks since the coronavirus crisis began hitting the economy. That’s more than 1 in 12 eligible workers.

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