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Blood center needs convalescent plasma as experts warn of possible surge in COVID-19 cases

The positivity rate in the Houston area has been around 5% recently, which is the lowest level we’ve seen since the health department started tracking the percentage of tests that have come back positive.

However, there are still many hospitalized patients that could use your help and doctors are planning for a surge in cases this fall. Part of their plans includes collecting convalescent plasma, which is possibly a life-saving treatment still under investigation.

At the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center, medical director Dr. Marsha Bertholf explained, “(blood from COVID-19 survivors) contains antibodies that then can go into the patients and help fight off the virus.”

Using convalescent plasma is a very old treatment. To put it very simply, it uses what one person is already making to help another person get better.

In an interview in August, Phil Towse, said receiving plasma was the turning point in his treatment. The way Towse explained it, while he was in the ICU, getting plasma was a last ditch effort to build his strength, and it made a big difference.

“I’m back working,” Towse said. “Lifting weights, mowing the yard, taking care of things and I’m very thankful.”

Now other survivors, like Elyse Carson, felt the need to act and save lives with plasma. Carson fought the virus at home but donates for those who are in the hospital and not as fortunate.

“If I am positive and I have the antibodies then why wouldn’t I spend 45 minutes getting plasma taken so somebody else can use it?” Carson said.

KPRC 2 spoke to Michele Gonzalez while she was donating and she said she’ll keep coming back.

“As long as it keeps coming back that I have antibodies then I’m going to come back,” Gonzalez said.

It’s no more time consuming or uncomfortable than a typical blood donation, according to the donors.

The blood center tests each bag to make sure it’s full of enough antibodies to help others fight the virus and they’re begging for your help to add to their supply as 30 states began reporting an increase in COVID-19 cases.

“We’re part of an effort to build the national supply in case there is a surge this fall,” Dr. Bertholf said.

Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center said all donations stay in our community first. What we can’t use gets shared with other areas. Meaning, nothing goes to waste.

They also test each blood donation for antibodies. That means, if you’re curious whether you might have had the virus and not shown symptoms, you can get an antibody test through a blood donation. If you are positive for antibodies, the blood center will call you and request a plasma donation.

How can I be a plasma donor?

It’s as easy as donating blood, here’s what you need to know before you go: https://www.giveblood.org/about-donating/donation-types/convalescent-plasma/

What’s the difference?

Blood donation

Blood donations are used for patients in the hospital (after trauma, after surgery, anyone experiencing blood loss). Healthy adults can donate up to a pint of blood without endangering their health, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Plasma donation

Plasma is the clear, straw-colored liquid portion of blood that remains after red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and other cellular components are removed. It contains water, salts, enzymes, antibodies and other proteins, according to donatingplasma.org

Molecular and PCR testing

These tests can confirm if someone has an active coronavirus infection. Antigen tests are less sensitive than molecular tests, meaning there may be false-negative results, according to the Department of State Health Services.

Antibody testing

This test can be used to determine if someone has ever had the coronavirus. The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center tests blood donations for antibodies. If they find you have antibodies, you’ll be asked to donate convalescent plasma.