COVID: Experts concerned about the rise of 'blood-washing' therapies

COVID: Experts concerned about the rise of 'blood-washing' therapies ...

Long COVID symptoms are life-threatening and distressing, but they are still undiagnosed, and treatment options are still unknown.

An investigative story published this week in The BMJ details the experience of several individuals who have felt driven to take the treatment of their long COVID symptoms into their own hands.

Thousands of people with long COVID have turned to clinics that offer blood washing, or apheresis, and blood-thinners, or anticoagulants, as treatments, according to the paper.

People often seek out these treatments in other countries, which requires a large amount of money for travel, accommodation, and the treatments themselves.

Madlen Davies, the editor of BMJ Investigations who co-authored the paper with ITV, told Medical News Today:

People are spending tens of thousands on these expensive treatments, as well as the travel and lodging expenses abroad. Some people believe these are promising treatments for long COVID treatments, while others believe desperate patients are spending life-changing sums on unnecessary, untested treatments.

The science behind apheresis treatments

Apheresis is a generally safe procedure in which blood goes through a large needle from one arm through a filtration system then back into the other. In long COVID treatment, the filtering removes inflammatory proteins and lipids.

Apheresis is offered as a therapeutic therapy for long COVID, based on the assumption that COVID-19 infection is clogging capillaries, reducing a persons oxygen supply.

Dr. Douglas B. Kell, from the University of Liverpool's Department of Biochemistry and Systems Biology, told MNT in no uncertain terms that people who do not know the origin of microclots are either lazy in reading the literature or willfully ignorant.

Dr. Kell noted that the mechanisms by which microclots explain things such as fatigue are also clear. There is evidence that spike protein alone is sufficient to induce fibrinaloid microclots in normal plasma.

Dr. Etheresia Pretorius of Stellenbosch University in South Africa, stated that her research supports the role of microclots in long COVID.

The long COVID microclots we are finding are the result of the original acute COVID that has simply never been addressed, according to the author.

Acute COVID is understood to have an influence on the vasculature, and we know that there are many inflammatory compounds in circulation in acute COVID. Microclots and platelet hyperactivation were discovered in acute COVID, too, according to Dr. Pretorius.

In long COVID, we have also discovered several inflammatory molecules entrapped inside these microclots. She added that widespread vascular damage and platelet hyperactivation are also present and clinically significant.

Dr. Robert Ariens, professor of vascular biology at the University of Leeds School of Medicine, answers the following question in the BMJ article: [microclots] may be a biomarker for illness, but how do we know if they are causal?

Anticoagulants can pose serious health dangers to patients, and their treatment with anticoagulants requires close physician supervision. Patients receive medication after returning from treatment sites, and experts cited in the paper are concerned about the thoroughness of follow-up monitoring.

Dr. Pretorius said, "There is nothing more I can say."

Patients require diagnosis, therapies, and clinical studies to evaluate treatment recommendations. The longer we leave patients without treatment, the more organ damage will occur, including the development of auto-antibodies, as some of my colleagues have already discovered and warned against.

She lamented that patients, including physicians with long COVID, had to organize their own advocacy groups, simply because they had not been supported or, worse, completely ignored.

An online conversation

The internet platforms are one place where such advocacy groups are expanding, and where information and disinformation vary depending on one's viewpoint.

According to the BMJ feature, one group in particular, which has around 4,9 thousand users, was established by the founder of a long COVID clinic in Cyprus, Greece that offers apheresis and anticoagulant treatments. The page assists people with long COVID in scheduling treatment appointments throughout Europe.

Davies said the moderators on the pages made positive remarks about apheresis as a therapy when only evidence exists.

The Department of Health and Social Care of the United Kingdom has stated that for their safety, most articles emphasize the high success rates and safety of the treatments.

According to Dr. Kell, "if you look at Twitter," youll notice that a lot of individuals are having success with oral and nutraceutical clotting blockers like nattokinase, serrapeptase, and lumbricase. It's hard to imagine how they'd function if not by getting rid of the microclots." Yet these are still anecdotal reports distributed via social media.

Shamil Haroon, a clinical lecturer in primary care at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing COVID researcher, expresses his surprise that people who were previously well-functioning, but are now debilitated, can't afford to pay themselves, would seek treatment elsewhere. Its a perfectly rational response to a situation like this.

However, people may go bankrupt due to lack of evidence of efficacy.

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