Reducing COVID Hospitalizations
Antibody treatment offers new hope
A promising new treatment for COVID-19 is reducing virus-related hospitalizations at Enloe Medical Center.
The number of severe cases plunged in January and February shortly after Enloe began offering a monoclonal antibody infusion (MAB).
Danny Clagget, 61, credits the therapy with keeping him and his wife out of the hospital. “About 4-5 days into COVID-19, I was in pretty bad shape,” he said. “Without the treatment, I’m sure I would’ve gotten a lot worse. My lungs were starting to burn.”
“Without the treatment, I’m sure I would’ve gotten a lot worse. My lungs were starting to burn," said Danny Clagget, who received MAB.
Clagget, an Oroville resident, returned to work shortly after the infusion. “I wish somebody would’ve told us about this on day one,” he said. “I would have done it the day we tested positive.”
The coronavirus gets its name from club-shaped spikes that surround the virus particle. These proteins form an ugly crown that latches onto healthy cells. They are the beginning of the problem for COVID-19 patients.
Monoclonal antibodies are immune system proteins created in a lab. They prepare the body’s cells to fight off the enemy proteins.
“It’s just like the antibodies that we make in our bodies,” said Marcia Nelson, M.D., Enloe’s Chief Medical Officer. “It attacks the virus so it can’t attach to our cells.”
The effect is a watered down virus that produces less severe symptoms. The antibodies shorten the body’s struggle. They’re reducing the length of hospital stays — or even hospital visits altogether.
The cumulative effect at Enloe is significant.
“We were expecting that January would be really rough with all the winter holidays … but it wasn’t,” Nelson said. “We had about 20% fewer hospitalizations than we expected, which allowed us to continue functioning almost like normal.”
“We were expecting that January would be really rough with all the winter holidays … but it wasn’t. We had about 20% fewer hospitalizations than we expected, which allowed us to continue functioning almost like normal," said Marcia Nelson, M.D., Enloe’s Chief Medical Officer.
Back on the Attack
Clagget is one of more than 200 people to receive the treatment as of early March. Of that group, only nine needed hospitalization later for COVID-19. Those who did never required the ICU or a ventilator. Their hospital stays were short, Nelson said.
For Enloe’s care team, the therapy arrived not a moment too soon.
“Once they started realizing the numbers were going down, you could just see a sense of relief in people,” said Cindy Llewellyn, the Nurse Manager at Enloe’s Neuro-Trauma Intensive Care Unit. “I can tell you personally that I was really getting burned out, not only watching patients — but to watch my staff struggle.”
Patients receive the treatment through an IV infusion. The process takes 60-90 minutes, and a nurse monitors patients for an hour afterward.
After a year of playing defense against the virus, MAB represents a chance to go on the attack. “It felt very different to be setting up these infusions,” Llewellyn said. “You were working on something positive.”
Getting the Treatment
Monoclonal antibodies are for COVID-19 patients at high risk for developing severe symptoms. Enloe has a supply that is available for patients with a doctor referral.
“Talk to your provider, talk to the person who administered that COVID-19 test for you,” Nelson said. “Find out if you’re appropriate for this treatment.”
Bamlanivimab is a brand new drug used in the infusion. The Food and Drug Administration authorized its emergency use for treatment of COVID-19.
While the specific drug is new, the concept of monoclonal antibody therapy is not. The technique is already used to treat a variety of cancers.
Doctors can learn more, including how to refer a patient to Enloe for this treatment, at www.enloe.org/mai.