How to donate plasma if you recovered from COVID-19
What you need to know about donating, including the potential risks and side-effects.
Mercey LivingstonCNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
By now, you've heard a lot of talk about antibodies and antibody tests when it comes to COVID-19. While we don't know everything about how coronavirus antibodies work yet, we do know that antibodies can tell you if you've been infected with the virus previously, and current research is trying to determine if they play a role in helping people who are already infected recover.
Since there isn't an effective cure for COVID-19 yet, medical researchers are trying several different treatments to help people, especially those who are critically ill. One of those treatments is plasma infusion, which involves transfusing blood plasma from a COVID-19 survivor to a critically ill patient with hopes that the plasma contains antibodies that can help the person fight off the virus.
The FDA and the American Red Cross are encouraging COVID-19 survivors to donate plasma to help those who are currently fighting the virus and seriously ill. Keep reading to learn more about how to donate, and how plasma donation may help others who are critically ill.
How plasma donations may help critical patients
One of the biggest challenges with fighting COVID-19 is that there is currently no proven treatment or cure. Doctors and scientists are working on different drugs and treatments that may help, but they are mainly having to use trial and error with other possible treatment methods, like plasma infusion.
Dr. Sandra Kesh, an infectious disease expert and MD at WestMed Medical Group, says we don't have a ton of data yet on how effective plasma infusions are for COVID-19 yet, but it's promising.
"With people who have received plasma infusions, and those are usually people with severe disease because there's no other treatment available, you do see a decline in mortality, or people who die from the infection," Dr. Kesh tells CNET.
Dr. Kesh says that what researchers and medical experts hope is that through plasma, they are able to extract specific antibodies that fight off COVID-19, known as neutralizing antibodies. "It can get confusing because we have so many different antibody tests, and when your body gets infected it creates a whole array of antibodies. And so the ones we want to give to people are the ones we know can effectively fight the virus."
Coronavirus in pictures: Scenes from around the world
Anyone who has been infected with the coronavirus is able to donate plasma, with some restrictions. When I was sick with COVID-19 in April, I was told by health authorities that I would have to get a second test and test negative in order to donate plasma, but the FDA says it's not necessary.
According to the FDA, you have to have a prior lab test that confirms you had the virus and not show any symptoms for at least 14 days before donating. Additionally, the Red Cross requires that donors are at least 17 years old and weigh 110 pounds, and if you are under 18 there may be additional weight requirements. You also have to report good health and that you feel well in general.
The requirements for donating plasma will vary based on where you donate, so be sure to check all of the requirements before you sign up or you may be turned away later.
How to donate plasma and what to expect
The good thing about donating plasma is that even though it may sound scary, the experience is really similar to donating blood. It does take longer (over an hour) because when you donate plasma, the plasma is extracted from your blood and then part of it is returned to you. What you can expect to feel is similar to any blood donation process -- someone will draw blood from your arm, and then it is sent through a machine where the plasma is collected. The machine helps send the red blood cells back into your body after it extracts plasma.
To volunteer to donate plasma, you have to contact a donation center in your area and find out if you are eligible first. Once you're approved, the donation center will tell you where to go to donate. The AABB and American Red Cross both have tools that can help you locate a donation site. You can also check out The Fight Is In Us to help you determine if you're eligible to donate and where to go.
Risks and side effects of plasma donation
Donating plasma is considered relatively safe for most people, but there are a few risks and potential side effects that you should know about before you donate, just in case. Donating plasma is different than donating blood since there's a second step involved -- routing the blood back into your body. Because of this step, there are a few more risks involved than standard blood donation.
First, giving plasma requires you to lose fluids, so you could get dehydrated after donating. If you're donating, be sure that you are well hydrated before and after donating plasma.
There's also a small risk of infection, bruising or slight pain at the site where the needle is placed.
Other than that, there are a few potential serious problems that can happen with plasma donation compared to blood donation. First, you could have a citrate reaction, which is from the citrate that is added to your blood in the plasma extraction process. Not everyone reacts to it, but it's possible.
Hemolysis is another condition where red blood cells are destroyed in the donation process, causing proteins to leak into the bloodstream, which is harmful. Finally, another complication that can happen during plasma donation is an air embolism, which is potentially fatal and happens when an air bubble escapes from the plasma donation machine and gets into your bloodstream, usually due to a malfunction.
Despite the risks and side effects, donating plasma if you've been infected with the coronavirus could help other people battle the virus and recover. If you fall into the camp, consider donating, as it could save someone else's life.
Watch this: New COVID-19 test you take at home
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.