Transfusion medicine

Blood service advice on COVID-19 risk – and potential for convalescent plasma

Blood transfusion services are advising there is minimal risk of bloodborne transmission of viruses such as to COVID-19 via blood supplies

In an update issued on 16 March, Australian Red Cross Lifeblood said respiratory viruses such as coronavirus are not known to be transfusion-transmissible, and the virus is usually only detectable in the blood when patients are critically ill when they would not be eligible to donate blood.

“We have assessed the blood safety risk as low and expect it to remain low. Internationally, other blood services have independently and unanimously arrived at the same conclusion,” they state.

“Our strict screening processes means we do not allow people who are unwell to donate blood and, to reduce the number of people coming into contact with the virus, we are also asking donors who have returned from overseas and those who have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus to wait 28 days before giving blood.

“Our donor centres are safe places to visit and we will take all necessary steps to ensure that remains the case.

Australian Red Cross Lifeblood said there were currently no blood supply shortages but there is a likely to be increased pressure on resources, especially O-negative red cells, given the expected rise in demand from elective surgery being brought forward.

It said consideration is also being given to the collection of plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 infection, to be used as convalescent plasma or immunoglobulins as a ‘last resort’ therapy in critically ill patients.

Reports in The Lancet have described how convalescent plasma has been shown some success in improving outcomes in other viral pandemics such as Ebola and influenza. It is thought the antibodies from convalescent plasma might suppress viraemia, particularly if used early in the course of the infection.

“The clinical utility of convalescent plasma is a key topic on our international medical blood service benchmarking calls. At this stage, a small number of the international blood services are actively progressing the collection of convalescent plasma. We are exploring with government whether this option should be pursued within Australia.,” it said


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