After writing numerous blogs throughout 2020 on ways to protect yourself from COVID-19, the cruel irony was being diagnosed with COVID last month. But in my case, COVID was not transmitted in the hospital setting. Even though I was treating COVID patients, all precautions were taken and I was well protected. Nor was COVID transmitted through travel or attending social engagements during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend as we were non-participants. So how did COVID reach our household? We are still mystified. One day, my wife experienced a rare headache, fatigue and chills and was diagnosed with the virus. As the only other occupants in our home, my son and I tested negative and we both self-quarantined. It was suggested that we retest 5 days later (the amount of time it generally takes for the virus to replicate in the body and become infective). My retest came back positive, although I had minimal symptoms initially (my son remained COVID negative).
What makes COVID-19 so tricky (and elusive) is that if you lack or have very mild symptoms, it is very easy to spread the virus to others. For example, I never experienced a cough or shortness of breath; my only early symptom was mild fatigue that could have easily been explained by not having a good night’s sleep. That is why it is critically important to self-isolate if you have been exposed to someone who is COVID positive until you are cleared (7-14 days) by your local health department.
While my wife fortunately recovered within a week of her symptoms, I began to experience severe body aches, fevers and fatigue. To neutralize the virus, I qualified for and received the monoclonal antibody treatment. This is the treatment that President Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and others have received. Immediately after treatment, my body aches resolved and I was well on my way to recovery.
Monoclonal antibody therapies from Regeneron and Eli Lilly have been shown to reduce COVID symptoms (depending upon viral load), speed of recovery and most importantly, lower hospitalization rates by up to 70%. I have referred my patients with significant COVID symptoms who qualify for this therapy to our Johns Hopkins/University of Maryland infusion center in Baltimore. Infusion centers are located throughout the U.S. with infusion taking 1 hour for the Lilly therapy that I received followed by another hour of monitoring. Unfortunately, those who require hospitalization (low oxygen saturation levels, for example) do not qualify for this outpatient procedure.
Until a high proportion of the population is vaccinated, we now have at least 1 proven therapy that reduces hospitalization rates for COVID. However, while the U.S. government through Operation Warp Speed has funded this therapy at no cost to those who qualify, it remains vastly underused. Should you have COVID and symptoms within 10 days of the diagnosis, be sure to contact your physician to determine whether you may be a candidate for antibody therapy. It can make a big difference in your recovery from COVID.
Wishing you a Happy New Year and COVID free 2021!
Michael Miller, M.D., is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.