Northwestern Arkansas Healthcare Providers Offer Monoclonal Antibody Treatment
FAYETTEVILLE – Amy Riklon from Fayetteville started to feel unwell on August 6th. Three days later, while she was experiencing chills and fever, she tested positive for covid-19.
The 36-year-old has asthma, which puts her at a higher risk of being hospitalized with a virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, on August 11, she went to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Northwest for treatment with monoclonal antibody.
Riklon noticed a difference within 36 hours, including a reduction in her fever and chills, she said.
Her husband, Frailian Riklon, suffered an even more dramatic effect from the treatment, she said.
Riklon, who was vaccinated in January, still has a persistent cough, but believes the treatment has made a difference.
Treatment with monoclonal antibodies helps minimize symptoms and helps keep people at high risk of getting a severe case of covid-19 out of hospital, according to the university.
“The drug is not a cure but is designed to reduce the viral load and the severity of the disease,” said Dr. Sheena CarlLee, internal medicine doctor at UAMS who helps run the antibody treatment clinic. of northwest Arkansas. “The therapy has been shown to help reduce the need for hospitalization by nearly 70% for high-risk covid-positive patients.”
This month, UAMS Northwest became the latest healthcare provider in the region to offer monoclonal antibody therapy to eligible covid-positive people. UAMS in Little Rock has been providing treatment since December, CarlLee said.
Washington Regional Medical Center; the Mercy Hospitals in Rogers, Fort Smith and Berryville; Northwestern Health System; Baptist Health in Fort Smith; and the Ozark Community Hospital in Gravette also provide treatment, as well as an infusion therapy center and pharmacy in Washington County, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
Antibodies are available for eligible people with mild to moderate symptoms of covid-19, but treatment must begin within 10 days of onset of symptoms, according to UAMS. People over 65, as well as those 12 to 64 who are at high risk, may be eligible.
However, the treatment is not approved for patients who are already hospitalized with covid-19 or who need oxygen therapy because it is associated with worse outcomes, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
What are monoclonal antibodies?
According to UAMS, monoclonal antibody therapies provide artificial antibodies that the body’s immune system would naturally produce when exposed to the new coronavirus. The introduction of these artificial antibodies accelerates the process of immune response.
Proteins made in the lab work by binding and starting to neutralize the virus, preventing it from attaching and entering human cells, according to Dr Sonal Bhakta, chief medical officer at Mercy Hospital in Rogers.
Not only does the treatment keep patients out of the hospital, it also helps them feel so much better that within the 24 to 48 hours they often call and thank their health care providers, she said.
“The results are quite phenomenal,” Bhakta said.
Several prominent people have made headlines after being treated with monoclonal antibodies, including former President Donald Trump and Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
The United States Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization in November, authorizing the use of monoclonal antibodies to treat mild to moderate symptoms of covid-19 in people 12 years of age and older, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
Initially, the bamlanivimab and etesevimab antibodies were approved for use, but in June the FDA announced that the CDC had found the drugs to be less effective at treating the newer variants circulating in the United States. The FDA therefore suspended the use of both drugs and recommended the use of Regen-Cov and sotrovimab instead, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
In July, the FDA issued another emergency use authorization to use the antibodies as a way to keep people from getting sick after exposure, the Department of Health website says.
What the treatment looks like
For Kathryn Parker, 36, of Fayetteville, treatment with monoclonal antibodies was easy and painless.
Parker, who was vaccinated, exhibited symptoms of covid-19 on August 8. She had a high fever and chills, worse than any flu she had ever experienced, and was particularly worried as she was about 10 weeks pregnant, she said.
Her father, a doctor, suggested she go to the Washington Regional Medical Center emergency room for a covid test and to get antibody treatment, she said.
While some treatments are given by infusion, Parker said he received four tiny injections into the stomach with very small needles. They didn’t look at all like the bigger jabs that come with a covid-19 or flu shot, she said.
Within a day and a half, the treatment relieved Parker’s most severe symptoms, she said. Her husband, Trent Parker, 36, who caught the virus from her also benefited from the treatment, she said.
“It cut everything very quickly,” she said.
Thursday marked the 12th day since Parker had tested positive, and although she still felt tired and had a small cough, her symptoms were minor, she said.
UAMS and Mercy also offer the injectable form of the treatment. The whole process, including paperwork and an observation period of one hour after the injection, takes around three hours, Bhakta said.
Parker said she did not experience any side effects from the treatment. Mercy in Rogers also didn’t see any side effects in patients, but there is the potential for an allergic reaction, with symptoms like hives or wheezing, like any other medication, Bhakta said.
The Arkansas Department of Health does not track how many people have received monoclonal antibodies, according to public information officer Danyelle McNeill. However, the ministry’s website maintains a list of facilities that offer the treatment. The treatment is available free to patients, but healthcare facilities can charge for its administration, the website says.
The Washington Regional has treated more than 1,400 people since it began offering antibodies in December, according to spokeswoman Natalie Hardin. Most insurances cover treatments, but some self-funded plans haven’t waived covid-related deductibles, she said.
Northwest Health has treated 150 people since November at its hospitals in Bentonville, Springdale and Siloam Springs, spokeswoman Christina Bull said.
Mercy Hospitals in Rogers and Fort Smith have treated nearly 300 patients since switching to the new Regen-Cov treatment, spokeswoman Jennifer Cook said.
Most people should contact their primary care doctor to find out if they are eligible for treatment and for help locating an infusion site, Bhakta said. Since treatments can only be given within a 10-day window, it is important that patients have a sense of urgency once they develop symptoms and test positive for the virus, she said. declared.
Because treatments are only available for people who are not already hospitalized, injections are only offered on an outpatient basis. UAMS has set up a special clinical space for monoclonal antibodies so that covid-positive patients are separated from other patients in the clinic, CarlLee said. The clinic has the capacity to treat about eight patients per day in northwest Arkansas, she said.
Both UAMS and non-UAMS providers can screen and order treatment for their patients, she said. Individuals can also email the clinic at [email protected] with their name, date of birth and phone number. Staff will call to screen and order treatment, if necessary.
Residents of Covid-positive Marshallese who need to be screened can call UAMS at (479) 332-0222 to speak to a Marshallese community health worker in their native language.
For more information and a list of state providers, visit healthy.arkansas.gov.
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Those who qualify for monoclonal antibody therapy include outpatients with mild to moderate symptoms, with less than 10 days since symptom onset and high risk factors such as:
• Be over 65
• Obesity, with a body mass index greater than 25
• Any immunosuppression
• Heart or lung disease
• Chronic kidney disease
• Sickle cell anemia
• Neurodevelopmental disorders such as cerebral palsy
• Have a technological dependency related to medicine such as a tracheostomy or gastrostomy, or use positive pressure ventilation unrelated to covid-19
• Other medical conditions or factors such as race or ethnicity can also put patients at a high risk of progressing to severe covid-19.
Individual administration sites may have additional criteria.
Source: Arkansas Department of Health.