The consequences of recovering from a corona infection make some of those affected despair: they are exhausted with the slightest effort, short of breath, cannot concentrate, or suffer from chest pains – even though the infection was four weeks or more ago. “Long Covid” is the name of the syndrome, which still poses many puzzles and affects an estimated ten percent of all people who are considered recovered.
Now a new article in the specialist magazine BMJ shows: In desperation, those affected who suffer from Long Covid travel to private clinics in Germany, Switzerland and Cyprus and have their blood washed for tens of thousands of euros – although there is no reliable evidence for the effectiveness of the treatment.
The author of the article in the BMJ, Madlen Davies, describes the case of a Dutch woman and former psychiatrist named Gitte Boumeester. After her corona infection in November 2020 and severe after-effects, the Dutchwoman flew to a private Cypriot clinic in Larnaca, a self-proclaimed “Long Covid Center”, and underwent a total of six blood washes over two months. The author quotes the person concerned as saying: “I thought: What could I possibly lose? Money was the only thing. Why shouldn’t I try?”
Boumeester spent around €50,000 on the said treatment, almost all of her life savings. The blood washes cost 1,685 euros each in the private clinic, the supply of oxygen in a high-pressure chamber 150 euros per session and the associated supply of vitamins 50 euros at the connected “Poseidonia Clinic”.
In addition, on the advice of the practice, the Dutch woman should buy a supply of anticoagulants and hydroxychloroquine – the latter drug (against malaria) was praised by former US President Donald Trump as a preventative drug against corona infection, but without any evidence.
The treatment with blood washing is based on the hardly proven assumption that small blood clots as a result of the corona infection restrict the transport of oxygen and thus trigger the symptoms of Long Covid. According to the BMJ article, six people treated with blood washing said they felt better after a few sessions, although none of those treated were cured of all their symptoms. In research, however, such information is considered anecdotal and therefore insufficient evidence of effectiveness.
In the blood wash called apheresis, filters split the tapped blood into red blood cells and plasma. Then supposedly unwanted components and proteins are filtered out of the blood, a machine reunites plasma and red blood cells and feeds them back into the body of the treated person via a tube and a vein.
Asked about the lack of evidence supporting the effectiveness of such treatment, a spokesman for author Davies’ said “Poseidonia Clinic” said all treatments offered are always based on medical and clinical evaluation by doctors and nutritionists, as well as blood tests, subsequent laboratory analyzes and “good medical practice”.
According to the Dutch woman, she had to sign a declaration of consent before the expensive treatment, in which she refrained from suing for “any injury, loss or death as a result of the treatment”.
In most European countries, doctors are allowed to carry out experimental treatments or prescribe medicines that are intended to be used elsewhere – the latter practice is known as “off-label use”.
In Germany, too, practices and clinics offer blood washing to those affected by long-Covid, including the “Lipidzentrum Nordrhein” in Mülheim an der Ruhr, operated by the doctor Beate Jaeger. According to the article in the specialist magazine, the internist has been carrying out the treatments on long-Covid sufferers for more than a year and claims to have alleviated their symptoms after just a few sessions. Jaeger acknowledges that her treatment is experimental but also notes that while the pandemic has left many desperate patients behind, control studies are taking too long.
Speaking in the scientific journal BMJ, Robert Ariens, a professor of vascular biology at Leeds Medical School, UK, asked: “The microclots [in the blood] may be a biomarker of the disease, but how are we to know if they are also the cause ?
And further: “If we do not yet know how the microclots form and whether they cause the disease, it seems premature to design a treatment that removes these microclots.” In addition, according to Ariens, it is not clear whether the treatment will bring about the return the microclot prevents.
Volker Schettler, head of the German Society for Nephrology (DGfN), also expressed his reservations about blood washing as a vaunted treatment against Long Covid: “Currently, these treatments are offered on a self-pay basis by certain centers, including non-medical directions such as of naturopathy and with the support of profit-driven interest. The DGfN calls for randomized control studies regarding apheresis treatments in these patients.”
With their method, such studies are considered the scientific gold standard in medical research and can provide a reliable answer as to whether blood washing really helps against Long Covid – or is expensive and useless.