Blood plasma transfusions from donors who have overcome COVID do not improve the survival of hospitalized patients, according to preliminary results of the largest clinical trial in the world, called Recovery, in which 180 hospitals in the United Kingdom participate. The researchers recruited almost 12,000 patients and half of them, in addition to the usual treatment, administered blood plasma rich in antibodies already trained against the coronavirus. 24% of the patients had died within a month in both groups.
The epidemiologist Martin Landray , leader of the trial, recalled that "an enormous number of patients" worldwide have received plasma transfusions since it began the pandemic. "Now it is clear that this hope for improvement does not correspond to reality in hospitalized patients," has sentenced Landray, from the University of Oxford. Donald Trump himself, then president of the United States, announced in August that this experimental treatment was "a truly historic advance in the fight against the virus in China," which would save "countless lives." Trump sold the confusing results of a 35,000-patient trial , led by Mayo Clinic doctors, as miraculous , that did not include a control group — with patients who did not receive transfusions — so that they could be compared with each other.
The new British trial , carried out between May 2020 and January 2021, has not detected that plasma increases the percentage of patients discharged after one month, being around 66% in both groups.
"This is not a treatment for someone who is seriously ill," says doctor Fernando Polack
The doctor Fernando Polack led last year in Argentina a trial with 160 patients that observed a 60% reduction in severe cases of covid in patients treated with urgent transfusions, as soon as the symptoms appear. Polack's team, from the Infant Foundation, went to look for the still mild patients from their own homes. “Plasma is a resource to stop a disease that is just beginning to appear. It's like health insurance: you have to have it when you think you won't need it. That's the secret, ”he points out.
Polack accounts for it. In their study in Argentina, they administered plasma to patients who had had symptoms for about three days, a time to which the usual five days of incubation must be added. They are eight days with viruses inside the body. In the British trial, a patient could go to hospital after eight days of symptoms and another five of incubation. “When you are hospitalized it is very late. This is not a treatment for someone who is seriously ill, "says the Argentine doctor.
The search for effective treatments against covid is full of failures, one year after the official declaration of the pandemic. The most effective drug to date is dexamethasone , an anti-inflammatory that reduces the risk of death by one third in the most severe patients, as the Recovery trial itself showed in June. The combination of dexamethasone with tocilizumab – a drug against rheumatoid arthritis – reduces the mortality of patients admitted to the ICU by up to 50%. That is the best that has been achieved so far.
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