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Why a treatment used for over a century on diseases like measles, mumps and influenza could work to treat the new coronavirus strain. USA TODAY

Century-old method may prove to be an answer in the COVID-19 pandemic

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FARMINGTON — BPL Plasma is looking for donors who have recovered from COVID-19 to help develop a treatment for the coronavirus that has led to months of social distancing and sent ripples through the economy.

The antibodies in the plasma could help save lives as the novel coronavirus continues to infect people around the world. The antibodies are essentially proteins that the body uses while fighting the virus.

Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood that primarily consists of water, antibodies and proteins and does not contain red or white blood cells.

Donors are paid for the plasma whether or not they have the antibodies, however donors with antibodies can get additional money and donations can be made twice a week.

The use of convalescent plasma — or plasma that contains antibodies — is still an experimental treatment for COVID-19, but Tim Mere, the center manager for BPL Plasma in Farmington, said it shows promise and, if successful, can save lives without having the side effects often associated with drugs. Mere said all donations are screened for HIV and hepatitis to prevent the transmission of infections.

Related: What is plasma therapy, and how does it work to treat the coronavirus? Everything you need to know

There are currently no proven drug therapies or vaccines to treat COVID-19.

“Right now, we are the only solution,” Mere said, referring to society as a whole. “If we cooperate together and we donate plasma, we can end this.”

He said finding an effective treatment for COVID-19, such as plasma therapy, is essential for getting the economy completely reopened and returning to a more normal life.

Donors must be between ages 18 and 65 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds and less than 400 pounds. Generally, BPL Plasma can accept donations from people who live within a 125-mile radius of the Farmington clinic. But donors who have recovered from COVID-19 and live outside of that radius can bring in a negative COVID-19 test result and donate their plasma.

More: Coronavirus: Convalescent plasma aids COVID-19 recovery at WellSpan hospitals

There is ongoing research into using this plasma. According to the Mayo Clinic, one experimental COVID-19 treatment involves giving the plasma to people who have the coronavirus. This is intended to reduce the likelihood of potentially fatal complications by boosting the ability to fight the virus.

John Hopkins University received federal funding in April to study using convalescent plasma to boost the immune response and prevent infections in people who are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19, such as health care workers.

The idea behind using convalescent plasma to treat viruses is not new and dates back more than a century. Antibodies in plasma have been used since the 1890s and were used during the Spanish Flu of 1918 to reduce mortality. It has also been used to treat measles and other diseases, including SARS.

Famous donor: 'Plasmatic!' Tom Hanks shares picture of himself donating plasma to combat COVID-19

The amount of time antibodies remain in a person who has had COVID-19 can vary. Some people only retain the antibodies for three to four weeks, Mere said.

Once symptoms disappear, the donor should wait 14 days before donating their plasma. Donors can also bring in a negative COVID-19 test result to show that they have recovered from the virus.

While BPL Plasma is specifically looking for plasma from COVID-19 patients who have recovered and may have the antibodies, the business still needs regular plasma donations as well.

More information is available at thefightisinus.org.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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