Antibody infusions are stemming Covid hospitalizations in Lafayette

antibody infusion
A nurse at Lourdes Emergency Center in Scott demonstrates the antibody infusion treatment Photo by Travis Gauthier

When registered nurse Kasey Hebert tested positive for COVID-19, she just wanted to stay out of the hospital and go back to work. She was willing to try anything.

After Hebert had been suffering from body aches for days, a surgeon she works with, Dr. Dee Garrett, recommended she try the monoclonal antibody infusion, a new treatment that’s proving useful in stemming the worst effects of the virus.

“I felt so bad, and I’m immunocompromised … that was a big part of it,” says Hebert, who has worked as a nurse for almost two decades. “[I said] alright let’s do this so I don’t end up in the hospital.”

Just a few hours at the hospital and two days of rest had Hebert feeling more like herself again.

Bamlanivimab, Bam for short, is the monoclonal antibody infusion treatment that’s now being more commonly given within the first 10 days of the onset of symptoms to Hebert and others to fight the virus and avoid hospitalization.

Hospitals have used the treatment under emergency use authorization since November 2020 with promising results. For high-risk Covid patients, the hospitalization rate is roughly 15-20%, according to Dr. Henry Kaufman, interim chief medical officer at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital. Of those, 15-17% will die. With the monoclonal antibody treatment, however, the hospitalization rate for that group drops to under 3%, which means overall mortality declines significantly. Physicians at Ochsner Lafayette General have seen similar results.

Kaufman believes the infusion, so far, has saved hundreds of hospital admissions, dozens of deaths, and kept hospitals out of crisis standard of care.

“We’re in a much better place now, but it doesn’t mean we can sit on our laurels and say it’s over and it’s done, because it’s not,” Kaufman says. “It’s going to take us months and months and months to get enough people vaccinated so that we have immunity. We’re not close to that yet. We’re trying to get there.”

For the antibody infusion to be successful, there has to be fewer virus agents than antibodies, which is why patients have to receive the treatment within the first 10 days of symptoms.

The antibody treatment works as a guard against the virus. As the virus enters the body, it works to infect cells and multiply. The treatment coats the virus, declaws it and renders it relatively harmless. If the infusion is received too late, however, it will not be able to coat all of the spreading virus, so the particles will continue to attack the body.

Patients receiving Bam are admitted for an hour-long infusion process, followed by a one-hour observation period. Overall, the process from start to finish lasts an average of three hours. Patients typically begin to feel better within 12-24 hours, but still have to quarantine a full two-week minimum.

Medical experts say it is possible to contract the virus and require the infusion after receiving the vaccine. They also stress that people can receive Bam more than once if they are infected a second time.

Click here to see a list of hospitals in Louisiana that have received monoclonal antibody infusion treatments as of December 2020.

It is critical to properly time vaccinations for those being treated with monoclonal antibody infusions, warns Dr. Amanda Logue, the chief medical officer at Ochsner Lafayette General. Immunity from the infusion persists in the body for approximately 90 days, which means patients can’t be vaccinated within that window because the infusion renders a vaccine ineffective.

“Ninety days is what we’re sticking to, to be safe, but there’s a good possibility that people have immunity for a bit longer than that,” Logue says. “What we’re seeing locally with some people that have gotten infected a second time, it tends to be more like four, five or six months that their immunity is lasting.”

The treatment is not yet widely available. Hospitals have limited its use to only high-risk patients like Hebert. Patients need referrals from their primary care doctors to receive the infusion.

Lourdes is currently treating an average of 17 patients a day, seven days a week, while OLG is treating 12-15 a day. The number of doses distributed and administered is continuing to ramp up. Just this week, Ochsner Acadia General Hospital in Crowley began administering the infusion.

Kaufman stresses that Bam is not the only treatment option for Covid. Hospitals, clinics, and urgent care centers can help patients control symptoms with steroids and other medications. The infusion is meant to help high-risk patients stay out of the hospital.

If you believe you qualify for the Bamlamivimab infusion, contact your physician. If you are eligible, you will be referred to a hospital to receive treatment. Hospitals are not accepting walk-in patients.

Broadly speaking, the medical community has advanced its ability to care for Covid patients, Kaufman says, but the push now is to distribute the vaccine as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“Are we better at it? Yes. Do we have this? Yes. Can we put our guard down? Absolutely no, no we can’t,” Kaufman says. “We have to maintain the suppression. We can’t just go about our business until we have a better handle on this. A big part of getting back to normal is going to be getting enough of the public vaccinated so there’s enough people out there that are immune so that we’re not spreading it between ourselves so prolifically.”