How COVID-19 Treatments Can Help Patients
If you get COVID-19 there are treatments available and the number continues to grow thanks to ongoing research. Your treatment plan depends on your exposure and whether you are high risk for more serious COVID symptoms.
As of Sept. 29, there are no other FDA-approved treatments for outpatients who are COVID positive.
Monoclonal Antibody Treatments
Monoclonal antibody (mAb) treatments don’t “cure” COVID-19. Instead, they target the spike protein of SARS- CoV-2 virus that causes COVID -19, and studies show they have a clinical benefit in treating it. If the “spike” is stopped, there’s a reduction in the likelihood of the virus entering cells and spreading.
These treatments may help people who:
- Have had a positive COVID-19 test
- Have symptoms for 10 days or less
- Are at high risk of getting more severe versions of the disease, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Monoclonal antibody treatments are basically manufactured antibodies introduced to a patient via IV,” said Avera Medical Group physician Chad Thury, DO. “Left to nature, the body needs days to produce its own defenses against COVID. This treatment helps neutralize the virus faster.”
The treatments work to help prevent infection from becoming so severe you end up in the hospital, or on a ventilator. When someone has COVID and gets this treatment, they can often avoid an emergency room or ICU visit.
Treatments While Managing COVID at Home
Three anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibody products currently have Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including:
- REGEN-COV, which is the Regeneron treatment that contains the Casirivimab/Imdevimab.
- Bamlanivimab combined with Etesevimab
Each treatment works in the same way: they contain antibodies that attach to and neutralize the virus so it does not replicate. Stopping that replication can help reduce the intensity of the disease.
“For patients who are COVID positive but not hospitalized, these approaches can help,” Thury said. The treatments are in most cases free.
Patients who are admitted are treated with other medications that are approved for people who are hospitalized.
“Hospitalized patients can benefit from timely initiation of an FDA-approved antiviral drug remdesivir as well as dexamethasone,” said Jawad Nazir, MD, Avera Medical Group infectious disease specialist.
Nazir said these treatments, when initiated on appropriate patients, have been shown to decrease length of hospitalization as well as complications, including those that could be fatal.
“Several unproven therapies which offer no clinical benefit are often ‘in the news’ or mentioned,” Nazir said. “They include things like the use of ivermectin and azithromycin.”
There are a number of clinical trials are ongoing nationwide to identify more effective future therapies.
Timing and Availably of Treatment
Treatments such as mAb are most often recommended for patients who are higher risk for COVID-19 progression to its most severe forms. Those patients are often 65 or older, and would include people who have:
- Chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease or lung disease
- Immune issues, such as cancer or ongoing chemotherapy
- Solid-organ transplant patients
“Timing is critical – we have had cases where people have symptoms, but say they’re fine,” Thury said. “If they wait until they ‘feel’ ill, and then seek treatment, it could be too late.”
Thury also said treatment measures (other than vaccines) are allocated via national and local agencies. In some cases and in some regions such as South Dakota, the mAb treatment is less available. It’s also another reminder to get the vaccine.
“Relying on an alternative can lead to delays and with COVID, delays can lead to hospitalization,” he said.
Patients typically receive the treatment in a clinical infusion center. It takes about 20 minutes, and they remain monitored on-site for an hour, in case of a reaction. Primary care providers prescribe the treatment in most cases.
Treatments, Trials and Time in the Pandemic
A wide range of trials are underway as health care professionals seek to develop any and all new approaches to fight back against a disease that has already killed 670,000 Americans.
Convalescent plasma treatments, which were used early in the pandemic, are no longer in use. But antiviral medications specific to COVID-19 are being tested.
“Much like Tami-Flu is used to lessen the symptoms of a patient with influenza,” Thury said. “Work continues, in many locations, to develop more tools to fight COVID.”
Learn more about treatment, vaccination and ways you can fight COVID-19.