If there's one good thing to come out of the fourth and deadliest wave of the pandemic in Louisiana, it might be the expanded availability of monoclonal antibody infusion treatments for those who test positive for COVID-19.

This simple treatment, which has been proven to improve outcomes for those infected with the coronavirus, is now widely available at walk-in clinics, hospitals and community sites across the state.

"I've heard more than one person refer to this as a game-changer for the treatment of people with mild to moderate COVID to prevent the progression of severe disease and hospitalizations," said Dr. Tina Stefanski, Acadiana's top public health official. "We just want people to know about it and to advocate for it if they do test positive."

Although the antibody infusions have been around since November 2020, they became more accessible as the delta variant of the coronavirus overwhelmed hospitals in July. The logic was simple: By providing additional antibody infusion sites for those at risk of developing severe illness from the virus, fewer people would later require hospital care at a time when resources were stretched thin.

Ochsner Lafayette General administered 2,462 infusions from July 12 through Sept. 17. Of those, just 33 were later admitted to the hospital for treatment of COVID-19.

Public health officials continue to stress that vaccinations are the best protection against severe illness, hospitalization or death related to COVID-19. The infusions do, however, offer hope for health care providers and those who do test positive for the virus, whether they're vaccinated or not.

"We have put in a lot of long hours and an extreme amount of hard work, but we felt like we were really doing a great service for the community," said Dr. Paul Trisler, who primarily works at the Our Lady of Lourdes Emergency Center in Scott. "At a time when there was really no treatment for COVID, and no one was really getting treated for any of this, people were coming to us and we were actually giving them hope."

Trisler's team cleaned out a storage room at the stand-alone emergency department to make space for monoclonal antibody infusion bays. Later, they set up a mobile unit in the parking lot so they could offer more infusions while continuing to care for the increased volume of patients in need of emergency care. At the peak, the facility was doing about 100 infusions per day. Now, that number is closer to 30 per day.

"It's been a very long two months, but we're very happy to do what we did," Trisler said. "I think we had great results. I think we did a lot of good for the community."

What is it?

Monoclonal antibodies are produced in a lab to mimic the human immune system's response to infection. The treatment helps to neutralize the virus that causes COVID-19 by preventing it from attaching to and entering human cells.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved monoclonal antibody infusions, sometimes referred to as mAbs, under emergency use authorization for the treatment of COVID-19.

The one-time treatment has been shown to prevent the progression of the disease, reduce coronavirus symptoms and keep patients out of the hospital. It is administered through an IV infusion in an outpatient setting. The actual treatment takes about 20 to 30 minutes, but the entire process can take up to two hours because patients are monitored for about an hour after the infusion.

Who is eligible?

To be eligible for treatment, a patient must meet all of the following criteria:

  • have a positive COVID-19 molecular or antigen test
  • be within 10 days of the start of COVID-19 symptoms
  • be at least 12 years old and weigh at least 88 pounds
  • be at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization 

A patient is considered high risk if he or she meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • is overweight or obese with a body mass index greater than 25
  • has chronic kidney disease
  • has diabetes
  • has immunosuppressive disease
  • is currently receiving immunosuppressive treatment
  • is 65 years of age or older
  • is 55 years of age or older and has one or more of the following:
    • cardiovascular disease
    • hypertension
    • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other chronic respiratory disease
  • is 12 to 17 years of age and has one or more of the following:
    • a body mass index greater than the 85th percentile
    • sickle cell disease
    • congenital or acquired heart disease
    • a neurodevelopment disorder, such as cerebral palsy
    • a medical-related technological dependence, such as tracheostomy, gastrostomy or positive pressure ventilation unrelated to COVID-19
    • asthma, reactive airway or other chronic respiratory disease that requires daily medication for control

Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 who test positive for the virus and meet the eligibility requirements also qualify for monoclonal antibody infusions, Stefanski said.

Although many treatment sites require a referral from a health care provider, people who do not have a doctor can call the state's COVID-19 help line at 1-855-453-0774 for assistance. 

Community treatment sites

The Louisiana Department of Health recently opened several federally supported monoclonal antibody therapy treatment sites across the state. Each site is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. There is no out-of-pocket cost to the patient, whether insured or uninsured, at these clinics.

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Although health care referrals are preferred, those who have a positive COVID-19 test result and meet eligibility requirements will not be turned away.

Community sites in the greater Acadiana area include:

  • Blackham Coliseum, 2330 Johnston St., Lafayette
  • Rayne Civic Center, 400 Frog Festival Drive, Rayne
  • Burton Coliseum, 7001 Gulf Highway, Lake Charles
  • Big Lots, 404 Canal St., Thibodaux
  • Houma Municipal Community Center, 880 Verret St., Houma
  • Rapides Coliseum, 5600 Coliseum Blvd., Alexandria

Learn more at ldh.la.gov.

Ochsner treatment sites

Ochsner Lafayette General monoclonal antibody infusion locations are available by provider referral only.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result can call the Crush COVID hotline at 833-873-2826 to find out more about eligibility requirements and referrals.

If a patient meets eligibility requirements, he or she can be scheduled for an infusion appointment without a provider referral, and eligibility will be confirmed by a provider during the appointment.

Ochsner sites in the Acadiana area include:

  • Crush COVID Mobile Infusion Treatment Unit at Ochsner Lafayette General Orthopedic Hospital, 2810 Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Lafayette
  • Ochsner Abrom Kaplan Memorial Hospital, 1310 W. Seventh St., Kaplan 
  • Ochsner Acadia General Hospital, 1305 Crowley Rayne Highway, Crowley

Learn more at ochsnerlg.org/mAbs.

Lourdes treatment sites

Our Lady of Lourdes monoclonal antibody infusion clinics are available by provider referral only.

Anyone with coronavirus symptoms or a positive test result can call the Lourdes COVID Hotline at 337-470-3776 for more information.

Antibody infusions are also available for walk-in patients at emergency departments in the Acadiana area, including:

  • Our Lady of Lourdes Women's & Children's Hospital Emergency Room, 4600 Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Lafayette
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center Emergency Room, 4801 Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Lafayette
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Scott Emergency Room, 662 Interstate 10 North Frontage Road, Scott

Learn more at lourdesrmc.com/coronavirus/monoclonal-antibody-infusion.

Opelousas General treatment site

Opelousas General Health System recently added a monoclonal antibody treatment site at its south campus in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health.

The site is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments require referrals by a doctor, community clinic or urgent care clinic. 

Opelousas General South Campus is located at 3983 Interstate 49 South Service Road in Opelousas.

Call the Department of Health's hotline at 337-678-4700 to learn more.

Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.