'Superheroes': Coronavirus survivors donate plasma hoping to heal the sick
Diana Berrent was the first coronavirus survivor in New York state to get screened hoping to donate anti-body rich plasma.
'Superheroes': Coronavirus survivors donate plasma hoping to heal the sick
Maggy Donaldson (Agence France-Presse) - April 3, 2020 - 2:37pm

NEW YORK, United States — As she emerges from quarantine, recovered COVID-19 patient Diana Berrent is eager to join the battle against the pandemic and donate precious antibodies that researchers hope might help others.

In mid-March, the New Yorker woke up with a 102-degree (39 Celsius) fever and intense chest heaviness, becoming one of the first from her Long Island neighborhood to test positive for coronavirus.

This week, Berrent was the first survivor in her state screened for antibodies — immune system-generated proteins that can ward off viruses -—to contribute to initial tests seeking treatment for the infection that's left more than 51,000 people dead worldwide.

Convalescent plasma, the fluid in blood teeming with antibodies post-illness, has proven effective in small studies to treat infectious diseases including Ebola and SARS.

Now, the US Food and Drug Administration has greenlit physicians to experiment with the strategy as coronavirus patients fill hospitals and the nation's positive caseload spikes to over 236,000.

Bruce Sachias, chief medical officer of the New York Blood Center — which will collect, test and distribute donations in the city — said while there is reason to believe plasma transfusions can help alleviate the current crisis, tests underway are not intended to yield golden-ticket solutions.

"It's really important for us to be very cognizant of the fact that we're still in very new territory," he said.

Crisis mode

Eldad Hod and Steven Spitalnik — transfusion medicine doctors leading trials at Columbia University's Irving Medical Center — are cautiously optimistic but, like Sachias, emphasize the unknowns.

Spitalnik told AFP they believe "within seven to 14 days after the onset of an infection, that people will develop an immune response and eventually make high amounts of antibodies -- although exactly when the peak of antibody production will be, we don't know."

He said some data suggests antibody production could peak around 28 days post-infection, and hopes the new research could provide a clearer picture.

Hod said each donation "can potentially save three to four lives."

The primary goal now is acquiring a significant plasma stock, so researchers can conduct formal studies with control groups who would receive non-convalescent plasma, and others the antibody-packed donations.

Initial plasma, however, will be distributed for "compassionate use," Hod said — to patients outside studies but for whom other strategies have failed. 

They also aim to test treatments on already-hospitalized patients and as a preventative therapy in settings like nursing homes.

Spitalnik said that normally they would want "highly controlled" clinical trials, which take longer but are more definitive.

But "this is a crisis," he said. 

"We understand and we are amenable to doing things that will take shorter amounts of time — but hopefully we'll yield at least some rigorous results."

Internal hazmat suit

Berrent is eager to open her personal blood bank and crossing her fingers in hope the process can prove life-saving.

"We can be superheroes," the 45-year-old photographer told AFP.

"These are unprecedented, frightening times where everything is beyond our control — except for we as survivors can help," Berrent said.

"We can be the ones running towards the fire in our own internally built hazmat suit. And that is a tremendous opportunity — how could you not take advantage of that?"

Berrent's antibody levels met donation requirements — but she is waiting on results of a nasal swab test to make sure any remnants of coronavirus have dissipated.

In the meantime, she's started the more than 17,000-member Facebook group "Survivor Corps" to mobilize other survivors to share their immunity.

"I can't wait to donate," Berrent said. "We need a forward-looking solution-based approach that offers hope because things are very, very bleak right now."

'Science will win'

A Houston hospital has already transfused plasma from a recovered patient into someone critically ill, though it's still too early to determine efficacy.

Sachias said hundreds of people who believe they have recovered from COVID-19 have applied to help in New York, the US epicenter of the highly contagious virus that accounts for nearly half of related deaths stateside.

As their research gets underway, Hod said one silver lining of coronavirus' global scale has been the boost to collaborative scientific efforts, saying data is being shared more openly than ever before.

"I think a lot of the scientific community has tried to put their egos aside... and banded together to try and work together for the common good," he said. 

"And I think in the end, science will win."

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: November 29, 2020 - 3:02pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

November 29, 2020 - 3:02pm

Around 9,000 runners — some wearing face masks — took part in the Shanghai International Marathon Sunday, Chinese media said, a rare mass event in a year when coronavirus laid waste to most such sport.

Prior to the race officials touted it as an opportunity to show how China — where the virus emerged late last year before unleashing a pandemic — is moving ahead despite the continuing global health crisis.

The prestigious New York, Berlin, Boston and Chicago marathons all fell victim to coronavirus this year, while London and Tokyo were open only to elite runners.

Bucking that trend, the Shanghai marathon went ahead under sunny skies following several days of rain, and with virus prevention measures in place to thwart infections. — AFP

November 28, 2020 - 5:18pm

More than 400,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus have been registered in Europe, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources around 0800 GMT Saturday.

The second-worst hit global region after Latin America and the Caribbean, 400,649 people have died of Covid-19 in Europe among 17,606,370 confirmed cases. Of these, 36,147 occurred in the past week alone -- the continent's worst seven-day total since the pandemic began.

Britain accounted for almost two-thirds of the European deaths at 57,551 from almost 1.6 million infections, followed by Italy with 53,677 deaths and 1.5 million infections, France (51,914 deaths, 2.2 million cases), Spain (44,668 deaths, 1.6 million cases) and Russia (39,068 deaths, 2.2 million cases). — AFP

November 28, 2020 - 4:04pm

The Department of Health confirms 1,893 new cases of the coronavirus disease. Total cases now at 427,797.

Out of the confirmed cases, 31,402 are registered active. There are 79 additional fatalities and 474 new recoveries.

November 28, 2020 - 3:31pm

Parts of Europe will reopen stores on Saturday in time for the holiday season after progress in containing the coronavirus, but Los Angeles will halt nearly all gatherings with the pandemic surging across the United States.

Most countries hope to ease their virus rules for Christmas and New Year, allowing families a respite before bracing for what the world hopes is one last wave of restrictions until a clutch of promising new vaccines kick in.

Stores will lift their shutters in France on Saturday, while Poland's shopping centres will also reopen. — AFP

November 27, 2020 - 4:12pm

The Department of Health reports 1,631 additional coronavirus cases. This brings the nationall tally to  425,918.

Of the confirmed cases, 30,047 are registered active. There are 370 more recoveries and 46 new fatalities.

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