Plasma donations rise as possible treatment for COVID-19 | Daily News

Plasma donations rise as possible treatment for COVID-19

Americans are suffering in the greatest numbers of the pandemic. Known infections are more than the next four countries combined. According to data from Johns Hopkins, only about 5% of infected Americans have died, but this weekend that left more than 37,000 dead — nearly one in four of world fatalities. Hospitals are battling in Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami and New Orleans. But nothing compares to New York City and its suburbs, which have more known infections than any other nation. New Yorkers are fighting at the extremes of life and death. Survivors are volunteering to treat the living as the city calls reinforcements to bring dignity to the dead.

To the icons of New York, a symbol of the pandemic has been added. More than 180 unmarked trailers, cooled inside below 40 degrees, are holding many of the city’s more than 13,000 lost souls. The trailers anticipate the dead outside 58 hospitals, including Brooklyn Hospital Center where Bob Aulicino is chief operating officer.

“We had our first trailer delivered and we were told it would fit 45 bodies,” Aulicino told correspondent Scott Pelley. “The second trailer was delivered. We were informed that we had to hire a carpenter to build shelving in that trailer to accommodate three times that amount which we did.”

“There is an image of a forklift lifting bodies into one of your trailers,” Pelley said. “Getting the bodies into the trailer was something we had to struggle with. And hence the use of the forklift,” Aulicino said. “We’ve since built ramps. We’re able to manage that process in a much more respectful manner. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Today, 90% of Brooklyn Hospital Center’s patients suffer from COVID-19. “We’re referred to as a safety net hospital,” Aulicino said. “Safety net hospitals, by definition, means that 50% of your patient population is on Medicaid. We serve a very poor community.”

Burials in common graves are underway on Hart Island in Long Island Sound. It’s New York’s potter’s field where more than a million have been interred since the 19th century. In the pandemic, about 100 people are buried here a week, several times more than usual. These are the simple pine caskets of people who were unclaimed or released by families that couldn’t afford a funeral.

Lieutenant Shawn Lavin leads a fatality search and recovery team for the New York Air National Guard. They carry the dead for the medical examiner. “They do the paperwork, we do the lifting,” Lavin said.

Lavin told Pelley his team is collecting between 30 to 40 bodies on average everyday.

One reason for the increase is the number dying at home or outside hospitals, about four times the usual.

“Our initial information from my commanding officer was, we would be collecting just from hospitals,” Lavin said. “But after arriving here, we moved quickly, from hospitals into residences and long-term care facilities.”Brooklyn Hospital Center is one of many hospitals testing what’s called convalescent plasma. Plasma is the liquid that carries blood cells and antibodies made by the immune system to attack viruses. A recovered virus patient’s plasma can be transfused into a patient who’s still suffering.

Dr. David Reich is president of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, part of a national convalescent plasma program being led by the renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

“In theory, if you give a large enough dose and early enough in the disease process, the antibodies in the convalescent plasma will neutralize the viral particles in the bloodstream of that individual,” Reich said. “And that could lead to a more mild course of disease. And it could lead to fewer complications.”

“What is the history of this kind of plasma therapy?” Pelley asked Reich

“It has been shown to be effective in certain epidemics and less effective in others,” Reich said. “For example, there was some evidence that it was a benefit for the SARS epidemic in the early part of the 2000s. And there may have been some benefit also for the Swine Flu, also known as H1N1. But it did not seem to be effective in treatment of Ebola disease.


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