If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, one of the first questions you may have is, What can I do to reduce the risk of getting sicker? The good news is, there are treatments that may reduce that risk. Depending on your age, health history, and how long you’ve had symptoms of COVID-19, you may qualify for a promising form of treatment for the disease. It’s called monoclonal antibody (mAb) treatment.
Some early evidence suggests that mAb treatment can reduce the amount of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) in a person's system. This amount is known as viral load. Having a lower viral load means you may have milder symptoms thereby decreasing the likelihood of you being hospitalized.
mAb treatment may help people who:
- Have a positive COVID-19 test, and had symptoms for 10 days or less, and
- Are at high risk of getting more serious symptoms.
Visit the page “How Do I Know If I’m High Risk, and What Do I Do Next?” to learn more.
This page describes what mAbs are, how they can prevent mild to moderate symptoms from getting worse, and what to expect if you get mAb treatment.
Monoclonal Antibodies in the News
WHAT IS A MONOCLONAL ANTIBODY?
Your body naturally makes antibodies to fight infection. However, your body may not have antibodies designed to recognize a novel (or new) virus like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies, or mAbs, are made in a laboratory to fight a particular infection—in this case, SARS-CoV-2—and are given to patients directly with an infusion. That’s why mAb treatment may help patients who are at high risk for severe symptoms or having to be hospitalized.
mAb treatment for COVID-19 is different from a COVID-19 vaccine. A vaccine triggers your body’s natural immune response, but can take weeks to develop enough antibodies and prevent some kinds of infection. Some vaccines for COVID-19 require two shots, so your body can develop its own immune response to the disease. But if you already have the virus, mAb treatment gives your body the antibodies it needs to protect itself.
How Can I Get Monoclonal Antibodies?
Patients who have had symptoms for 10 days or less should be referred for treatment by their healthcare providers and directed to available infusion locations.
WHAT IF I DON’T QUALIFY FOR MONOCLONAL ANTIBODY TREATMENT?
Your healthcare provider may decide you don’t qualify for mAb treatment. There could be several reasons for this. You may not meet all of the eligibility criteria, or you may have an underlying health condition that disqualifies you for mAb treatment.
Whatever the reason is, don’t give up. There could be another option. You may be able to join a clinical trial for COVID-19.
Participants in these clinical trials may receive new drugs or other treatments, so scientists can evaluate how well the treatments work. Thousands of participants in clinical trials have helped with the discovery of new treatments for COVID-19, and many more participants are needed to ensure that treatments work for people across age, gender, race, and ethnicity.
Ask your healthcare provider if you may be eligible for a clinical trial for treating COVID-19. To learn more about clinical trials, visit our page, You Can Help Combat COVID, or call 877-414-8106.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM TREATMENT (INFUSION)?
mAb treatment happens at an infusion center because the treatment is given through an intravenous (IV) infusion. Depending on the mAb treatment you receive, the whole process takes about 2 to 3 hours. First, medical staff conduct a screening; then they start an IV, which delivers the mAbs to your body in just over an hour. Afterward, the medical staff will have you stay at the infusion center for another hour to be sure you aren’t having an allergic reaction or other side effects. These reactions are rare, but the staff must observe you for this hour. Then you’ll be released to go home.
It’s important to know that even if you start feeling better, you could still spread the virus for a while. So, you’ll need to isolate yourself (be alone) until all of these things happen:
- At least 10 days have passed since your first symptoms of COVID-19
- You haven’t had a fever in at least 24 hours, without taking any medicine that reduces fever
- Your other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving
IMPORTANT: Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Your personal health history may require you to meet additional conditions. Also, if you start to feel worse, don’t hesitate to seek medical care.
CAN ANTIBODY TREATMENT MAKE ME SICK?
Antibody treatments don’t contain any live SARS-CoV-2, so there’s no risk you’ll get COVID-19 from mAb treatment. However, antibody treatment may have side effects:
- Allergic reactions can happen during and after an antibody infusion. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you get any of the following signs and symptoms of allergic reactions: fever; chills; nausea; headache; shortness of breath; low blood pressure; wheezing; swelling of your lips, face, or throat; rash, including hives; itching; muscle aches; and/or dizziness.
- An infusion of any medicine may cause brief pain, bleeding, bruising of the skin, soreness, swelling, and possible infection at the infusion site.
These are not all the possible side effects of antibody treatment. Serious and unexpected side effects may happen. Some possible risks from antibody treatment are:
- It may interfere with your body's ability to fight off a future infection of SARS-CoV-2.
- It may reduce your body’s immune response to a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2.
mAb treatments for COVID-19, like other treatments authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are still being studied, so it's possible that we don’t know all the risks yet. As scientists continue to study the virus and how mAb treatment affects it, we’ll learn more about these possible risks. If you have any questions, please talk with your healthcare provider.