Inna Galchenko, RN, prepares a monoclonal antibody infusion.
If you think you have COVID-19 and are at high risk for severe infection, get tested and ask your doctor about monoclonal antibody treatment right away. According to Dr. Cameron Wolfe, MBBS, a Duke Health infectious disease expert, receiving the infusion treatment within seven to 10 days of the start of symptoms appears to help people with chronic medical conditions feel better faster. Few people seem to know that, he said.
“When COVID-19 symptoms first appear, an infusion of monoclonal antibodies appears to shorten the duration of symptoms and reduces the need for hospitalization in people at high risk for severe disease,” Dr. Wolfe said. “It’s important that people receive this treatment when their symptoms are early and mild. That's when it works best."
How Monoclonal Antibodies Work
Monoclonal antibodies are lab-created proteins that stop the COVID-19 virus from reproducing, said Jeremiah Olivas, NP, a nurse practitioner at Duke Health Center at Southpoint, where the treatment is given. “When the virus is unable to replicate, the viral load, or amount of virus in the body, stays low.” As a result, the symptoms that often land people in the hospital don’t worsen.
Monoclonal antibody infusion was approved by the FDA for emergency authorization use in November 2020. Researchers continue to evaluate it to understand more about which patients benefit. So far, the treatment appears to be beneficial in patients at high risk for severe COVID-19 infection when they contract a mild or moderate infection. “Without treatment, the infection can progress, which can result in lengthy ICU stays and possible placement on a ventilator,” said Dr. Wolfe. “Patients who receive monoclonal antibody treatment before symptoms become severe are less likely to be hospitalized and are telling us they feel better sooner.”
Who Is Eligible for Monoclonal Antibody Treatment?
People who are over 65 and anyone who has a chronic condition such as kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, respiratory disease, or who has a suppressed immune system may be eligible for treatment. It takes about an hour to administer in an outpatient clinic that is specially designed to safely care for people who are infected with COVID-19. “We monitor the patient for an hour, then they go home,” Olivas said. “They don’t have to do anything special. They can eat, drink, and take their medications as they normally would.”
Contact Your Doctor as Soon as Symptoms Start
If you think you may be eligible for treatment, Olivas said it’s important to contact your doctor or call 919-385-0431 as soon as symptoms start. The faster you receive the monoclonal antibody infusion (ideally within seven to 10 days of the start of symptoms), the more likely it is to stop the virus’s ability to reproduce, Olivas said. “Don’t decide for yourself if you are eligible. Let us do that for you. We evaluate every individual to make sure the treatment is right for them.”
If you’ve already been vaccinated and contract COVID-19, you may still benefit from this treatment if needed, Olivas added. The treatment has also shown benefits in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.