A Calgary doctor is organizing a group of health-care workers who contracted COVID-19 after attending a bonspiel in Edmonton last month to donate their plasma.
Dr. Kelly Burak, an epidemiologist and associate dean at the University of Calgary’s School of Medicine, participated in the bonspiel and said the majority of the 73 curlers plan to donate their plasma as part of a clinical trial organized by the Canadian Blood Services.
The bonspiel initially attracted attention because it was one of the first outbreaks in the province and the participants were primarily physicians.
At one point, 22 out of the 47 Alberta health-care workers who attended tested positive for the virus; on Friday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said 40 out of the 73 participants contracted the virus.
Burak said the event, which was held at the Granite Curling Club, took place in mid-March, when the recommendation for mass gatherings in Alberta was 250 people or fewer.
“Everyone was certainly aware of the coronavirus,” he said.
“We were taking precautions that we thought were appropriate. There was no handshakes. We wiped down the curling rocks between games. Nobody was sharing any food or anything like that. We were aware of COVID-19.”
Burak said he started developing symptoms three days after the event ended, saying he felt a tickle in his throat. It was around that time the president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association announced he tested positive for the virus and believed he contracted it at the bonspiel.
With that possibility at the forefront of his mind, Burak was tested and received a positive result.
“I didn’t have very much cough. I didn’t have any fever so atypical symptoms, until about day seven and then I really woke up with flu-like symptoms – severe body aches, just exhausted, which landed me in bed, so about a day before subsequently recovering,” he said.
As a past bonspiel organizer and an epidemiologist, Burak helped contact participants to ensure they self-isolated and got tested.
Burak then reached out to the Canadian Blood Services about its convalescent plasma trial.
“I was hoping everybody from our bonspiel outbreak was going to recover from it and fortunately, all have. This would just be another way to give back,” he said.
“If our blood can be used to help somebody else that’s battling a more severe form of the infection then we really wanted to help do that.”
According to the Canadian Blood Services, convalescent plasma is collected from patients who have recovered from the virus, meaning they have developed the antibodies to fight off the disease. That plasma could be a possible treatment in others with the virus though, at this point, there is no proof it is effective; there is currently no vaccine or approved treatment for COVID-19.
Donors must be younger than 67 years old, previously confirmed positive for COVID-19 by a lab test and fully recovered and symptom-free for at least 28 days.
“The plan is to give convalescent plasma…to individuals who are in the hospital . The hope is to give it to them so that they make a speedy recovery and don’t need to go to the ICU,” said AHS vice-president and infectious disease expert Dr. Mark Joffe.
Joffe said it isn’t clear whether or how this treatment will work.
“There’s a reasonable chance, a good chance, that it’s going to work and will be effective. There’s a chance that it’s not going to work. And there’s a very small chance that it actually might make people worse. So we need to understand what this product can do and whether it truly will help people get better faster.”
Burak said the doctors are driven by a desire to give back.
“Part of the struggle being placed in quarantine for two weeks and knowing that your colleagues were still at work and still getting ready for the fight against the coronavirus,” he said.
“This is certainly one way everybody’s interested in helping out is to contribute to clinical trials.”
Joffe is heartened by the doctors’ donations.
“It really highlights, I think, something unique and special amongst health-care workers — that they also want to be part of making things better. They want to try to contribute to learning, to understanding the disease, to understanding how to get people better faster and prevent them from developing really severe disease,” he said.
“This is an opportunity for people who came through a really unfortunate event and circumstance, but it’s an opportunity now for them to give back, and I think it’s absolutely terrific.”
If you have recovered from COVID-19 and are interested in the clinical trial, click here.
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