Long COVID remains one aspect of the terrible fall-out from the pandemic. According to one study in the UK, 6% of people infected with the coronavirus developed long COVID.
For many sufferers, the condition has been completely debilitating, robbing them of the chance of a healthy life. Now a German clinic led by Dr Beate Jäger is leading the way with a treatment for long COVID.
The treatment is called HELP Apheresis. Similar to dialysis, the patient’s blood is taken from one arm, run through a machine and fed back into the other arm.
The HELP process – heparin-mediated extracorporeal LDL-cholesterol precipitation – removes blood clots from the blood before the blood is reinjected. For many patients, this has been transformative.
After a BBC interview last week, Dr Asad Khan has become something of a spokesperson for the treatment. Dr Khan was infected with the coronavirus while working on a respiratory ward in the UK in November 2020.
His symptoms included unbearable skin rashes, memory loss, inflammation of the heart, incontinence, and nausea when he tried to sit up or stand. By August 2021, he had to lie in a dark room with a blindfold and ear-plugs in order to cope. ‘I didn’t care if when I fell asleep I ever woke up again,’ Dr Khan told the BBC.
Many doctors continue to doubt that long COVID has a physiological basis.‘ Despite my knowledge and access,’ said Dr Khan, ‘It has been a nightmare to get the right care. I can only imagine what it must be like for the average person.’
Through his advocacy, Dr Khan was put in touch with Dr Jäger in Germany, who began his treatment. ‘My blood was so full of clot material that it blocked the machine on four occasions,’ said Khan. ‘And what is really interesting is that all of the usual clotting tests…were normal, in my case.’
Khan has been through seven treatments of HELP apheresis and describes himself as much improved. He can now take short walks, read and eat a more normal diet. ‘It seems like I’ve finally got a chance of getting my life back again.’
According to Dr Jäger, some long COVID patients have seen their symptoms abate after just a single treatment. On the other hand, out of her 104 patients, one had to have his blood filtered on 14 separate occasions.
All the same, the treatment is a major breakthrough for people whose lives were becoming impossible. It is also likely to lead to greater cognition of the extent to which COVID, at least in its chronic form, is a disease of the circulatory system.
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