New COVID-19 treatment helps patient recover and stay out of hospital

The FDA approval limits bamlanivimab to those at high risk of getting seriously ill or needing hospitalization due to COVID-19. That includes those 65 or over and those with certain chronic medical conditions.

Specialized COVID-19 antibody treatments were nothing new to Jackie Bourke, R.N., CCRC, a clinical research nurse working on infectious diseases studies.

She knows firsthand how quickly COVID-19 can turn serious for some patients and had seen the investigational treatment work.

When she got the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, she was ready.

Jackie tested positive on Nov. 18.

“By the 26th and 27th, I was really sick,” she said.

An oxygen level of 96% to 100% is good — hers was between 90% and 95%.

“Once you get below 92, it’s concerning, and once you fall below 90, you’re in trouble,” said Jackie.

As her oxygen levels fell, she called her doctor to ask about a bamlanivimab infusion. Bamlanivimab (pronounced “bam-luh-NI-vi-mab”) is a monoclonal antibody approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use that helps block the virus from replicating in your body.

Update: Regeneron monoclonal antibody replacing bamlanivimab to keep COVID-19 patients out of the hospital

The FDA approval limits bamlanivimab to those at high risk of getting seriously ill or needing hospitalization due to COVID-19. That includes those 65 or over and those with certain chronic medical conditions.

Jackie, 59, has high blood pressure, which qualified her for the treatment.

The idea is that the drug will prevent people from needing hospitalization and reduce the health-care system strains felt in some parts of the country. Norton Healthcare is experiencing the drug’s positive impact, firsthand. As of mid-Jan., about 800 of its patients had received bamlanivimab treatment, and of those patients, 11 of them were admitted to the hospital.

“This is remarkable, because if it hadn’t been for the drug, most—if not all—of those 800 patients quite possibly would have needed hospitalization due to their co-morbidities,” said Joseph Flynn, D.O., MPH, FACP, chief administrative officer, Norton Medical group; and physician-in-chief, Norton Cancer Institute.

Feeling better almost right away

Jackie said she began feeling some improvement the same day she had the bamlanivimab infusion. By the next day, her breathing had improved and was less labored.

“There was a noticeable difference,” she said. “I typically go for walks, and during my bout with COVID, I was unable to walk without struggling to breathe.”

It took her a couple weeks to get back to normal, but she’s grateful serious damage wasn’t done.

Jackie wants to get the word out so more high-risk COVID-19 patients don’t delay getting treatment that may stop the disease.

“This treatment is effective, but there’s a timetable for receiving it — and you don’t want to wait too long,” Jackie said.

Bamlanivimab can be administered only within a 10-day period from the start of symptoms.

Leading-edge COVID-19 treatment

If you think you qualify for a bamlanivimab infusion, contact your primary care provider.

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“By then, the virus has replicated and done its damage, so it’s important to receive the treatment as soon as possible,” Jackie said. “I almost missed my window, as I received it on day nine.”

Who can get a bamlanivimab infusion?

Those with mild to moderate COVID-19 and:

  • Tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • Have not had symptoms for more than 10 days.
  • Are age 12 or older and weigh at least 88 pounds.
  • Are at high risk of getting seriously ill or needing hospitalization from COVID-19.

What qualifies as high-risk eligibility for bamlanivimab infusion?

Patients who meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • A body mass index (BMI) of at least 35
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Immunosuppressive disease
  • Currently receiving immunosuppressive treatment
  • At least 65 years of age
  • At least 55 years of age and have:
    • Cardiovascular disease or hypertension
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/other chronic respiratory disease
  • Age 12 to 17 years of age AND have
    • BMI greater than or equal to the 85th percentile for their age and gender based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts
    • Sickle cell disease
    • Congenital or acquired heart disease
    • Neurodevelopmental disorders, for example, cerebral palsy
    • A medical-related technological dependence, for example, tracheostomy, gastrostomy, or positive pressure ventilation (not related to COVID-19)
    • Asthma, reactive airway or other chronic respiratory disease that requires daily medication for control

Bamlanivimab infusion side effects

The most common reported side effects are nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, itchiness and vomiting. Clinical studies of bamlanivimab’s safety and effectiveness are still underway.

Side effects of the infusion can include brief pain, bleeding, bruising of the skin, soreness, swelling and possible infection at the infusion site.

Treatments are being provided at Norton Infusion Center – Brownsboro and Norton Infusion Center – Downtown.

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