CORONAVIRUS/Doctors inhibit key COVID-19 complication with blood purification

05/07/2020 09:03 PM
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Wang Wei-chieh (王偉傑)
Wang Wei-chieh (王偉傑)

Taoyuan, May 7 (CNA) State-run Taoyuan General Hospital said Thursday it successfully used blood purification techniques to treat a patient suffering from complications of COVID-19, though a government expert cautioned more research is needed to determine the overall efficacy of the treatment.

At a press conference, nephrologist Wang Wei-chieh (王偉傑) said his team used the techniques to inhibit an extreme immune response -- known as a "cytokine storm" -- which often causes death in severe COVID-19 patients.

The patient in question was a 52-year-old woman who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 15, Wang said.

On March 24, she was intubated after developing severe respiratory symptoms, and transferred to a negative-pressure isolation room two days later, he said.

From March 30-April 1, Wang said, the woman was treated using a combination of two blood purification techniques: plasmapheresis, which involves the removal, treatment and return of blood plasma, and continuous renal replacement treatment, a type of 24-hour dialysis.

The purpose of the treatments, according to Wang, was to clear the patient's body of cytokines -- proteins secreted during an immune response, which attack the perceived threat and cause localized inflammation.

The overproduction of cytokines can cause hyperinflammation in the lungs or other affected organs, leading to death.

According to Wang, the patient's condition improved after the treatments.

On April 15, her artificial airway was removed and on April 17, she was able to sit up in bed and communicate with her family via text message, he said.

Photo for illustrative purposes only
Photo for illustrative purposes only

Based on the case, Wang said blood purification shows promise as a means of managing cytokine reactions because it lacks many of the serious side effects of other medicinal treatments.

Responding to the announcement, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) expert Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said he was familiar with the doctors' approach, but cautioned that their course of treatment has only been used on one patient.

More scientific evidence is needed before we can determine whether this form of treatment is appropriate for everybody, he said.

(By Chiu Chun-chin and Matthew Mazzetta)

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