Covid-19 Pandemic Many experts believe it was a massive disabling event. While most people fully recover from battling the highly contagious coronavirus, a large proportion of patients experience lingering and sometimes debilitating symptoms — known as long-term Covid-19. Estimates of how many Covid patients endure long-term symptoms vary widely. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that nearly one in five Covid patients report persistent symptoms. Hundreds of millions of Covid-19 cases have been reported globally, and even more modest estimates still suggest tens of millions of cases have a lasting impact.
However, as these patients seek effective care, researchers are scrambling to define, understand and treat this new phenomenon. Many patients report an uphill battle to find care and relief, including long waits at clinics and few treatment options when they see a care provider.
Cue the quack. The situation is ripe for criminals to step in and start offering unproven products and treatments—possibly overpriced. It’s a tried-and-true model: When modern medicine fails to provide evidence-based treatment, quack doctors slip in to comfort desperate, untreated patients. In their sympathetic clichés, they chastise modern medicine, glare at ruthless doctors and scoff at the slow pace and high prices of clinical trials. With any undue trust they gain, these bad actors can tout unproven cures and false hope.
Such unproven long-term Covid-19 treatments, such as supplements, vitamins, infusions, fasting, ozone therapy and off-label drug prescriptions, have been reported in the United States. But a UK survey published this week highlighted the growing international trend of expensive “blood wash” treatments.
The survey was conducted by British media ITV News and british medical journalIt has been revealed that thousands of long-term Covid patients are travelling to private clinics in various countries including Switzerland, Germany and Cyprus for blood filtration or apheresis, which has not been proven to treat long-term Covid.
Apheresis is a well-established medical treatment, but it is used to treat specific diseases by filtering blood components that are known to be problematic, such as filtering out LDL (low-density lipoprotein) in people with recalcitrant high cholesterol, or removing Malignant leukemia in people with refractory high cholesterol.
For long-term Covid-infected patients, apheresis treatment appears to be used to remove all kinds of things that may or may not be problematic. This includes LDL and inflammatory molecules, a strategy originally designed to treat patients with cardiovascular disease. Physician Beate Jaeger, who heads the North Rhine Lipid Center in Germany, has begun treating patients with long-term Covid-19 infections, touting the approach, which involves filtering blood through a heparin filter. She also prescribes a mixture of anticoagulant drugs for patients with long-term Covid infections.
Jaeger hypothesized that the blood of people who had been infected with Covid for a long time was too thick and contained small blood clots. She suggests that blood thinning with medication and apheresis can improve microcirculation and overall health. But there is no evidence that this hypothesis is correct or that the treatment is effective. When Jaeger tried to publish her hypothesis in a German medical journal, it was rejected.
Robert Ariens, Professor of Vascular Biology at the University of Leeds School of Medicine british medical journal And ITV believes treatment is premature. For one thing, researchers don’t understand how microclots form, whether apheresis and anticoagulant drugs reduce them, and whether the reduction has an effect on the disease. “If we don’t know the mechanisms by which microclots form and whether they cause disease, it seems premature to design a treatment to remove microclots, because apheresis and triple anticoagulation are not without risks, and it’s obvious that one is bleeding ,” Ariens said.
Meanwhile, Jaeger has defended treating patients despite the hypothesis being rejected and the lack of evidence. She expressed anger at “dogmatism” in medicine and claimed to have treated patients in her clinic who were in wheelchairs but walked out. “If I see a child in a wheelchair suffering for a year, I’d rather treat than wait for 100 percent evidence,” she said.
Jaeger is not alone. Other clinics have also started offering apheresis for long-term Covid. The British investigation interviewed Gitte Boumeester, a woman in the Netherlands who paid more than $60,000 (nearly all of her savings) to be treated at a new long-term Covid clinic in Cyprus after seeing positive anecdotes online. Desperate for relief from her chronic coronavirus symptoms, the woman signed a dubious consent form filled with misspellings, grammatical errors and half-way sentences that relinquished her rights.
Daniel Sokol, a London barrister and medical ethicist, said the form was invalid under British and Welsh law. “You can’t say, ‘By the way, if we cause you horrific injury or kill you, you agree not to prosecute us, even for our own negligence,'” he told investigators. “You can’t do that.”
At the Cyprus clinic, Boumeester underwent a series of other unproven treatments as well as apheresis, including vitamin infusions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, anticoagulants and hydroxychloroquine, which is known to be ineffective against Covid-19. After spending two months in Cyprus, undergoing various treatments and draining her bank account, Boumeester said her debilitating symptoms, including heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath and brain fog, did not improve.
“I do think they should put more emphasis on the experimental nature of the treatment, especially since it’s so expensive,” Boumeester said. “I realized the outcome was inconclusive before I started, but everyone in the clinic was so positive that you also started to believe in it and have hope.”
This story originally appeared in Ars Technica.