What medications are being used to treat COVID-19?

April 08, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

With the number of people infected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) rising every day, scientists are working around the clock to find ways to effectively treat the virus.

Since antibiotics don’t work against viruses, the body’s immune system must typically fight them off until they run their course. This is challenging when symptoms become severe, as in some cases of the novel coronavirus.

This is a complex disease process; it is a new virus that we have only known about for four months. While new medicines are being developed to fight COVID-19, doctors are currently relying on a range of older medicines to treat infected patients.

“It is important to understand that there are currently no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of the coronavirus. All medications that are currently being used are being done so based on clinical experience gained from treating other diseases,” says Phillip Williams, Pharm.D., MBA, Associate Vice President of Pharmacy Services for Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Additionally, information that is coming out of other parts of the world, such as China and South Korea, is being considered when making decisions about which medications to use and when.

“New information is being disseminated daily. This new information is constantly being reviewed and evaluated to determine if and when we should incorporate new medications into our treatment decisions and when we should alter what is currently being done,” says Williams.

Current treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms may include supportive care such as hydration (IV fluids), pain and fever control, and breathing treatments. Sometimes antibiotics are used to treat concurrent bacterial infections.

There is some information cautioning patients about taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). This information has not been studied or confirmed and therefore, it is difficult to make a recommendation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is an effective medication for mild pain and fever control. 

Patients with more severe symptoms are typically admitted to the hospital and treated with various medications to slow the progression of the disease and relieve symptoms. Some patients need supplementary oxygen and mechanical ventilatory support. 

The current methodology to treat COVID-19 involves using antiviral medications, anti-inflammatory medications, immune system modulators, and anti-malaria medications. Examples of specific medications being used for COVID-19 include: hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, tocilizumab and acetaminophen. Other medications currently being considered are: remdesivir, sarilumab, leronlimab, nitric oxide and Kaletra.

Plasma treatment is also being studied, in which patients previously infected and recovered may have antibodies that could be transferred to sick patients via plasma transfusion. Patients who develop clotting complications as a result of the virus may receive tissue plasminogen activator treatment.

There are also investigational drugs for COVID-19 being studied in clinical trials underway across the globe.

What about an allergy to medications? For patients who have received any of these medications previously and experienced an allergic reaction, doctors would potentially prescribe alternate medications. In some incidences, an alternative may not be available and doctors would treat the allergic reaction if it occurs. 

Keep in mind that nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness are common side effects of medications, not allergic reactions. An allergic reaction would be a rash, tongue swelling, shortness of breath/trouble breathing, etc. 

Many are wondering when a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 will become available. “It typically takes 18-24 months to develop a safe and effective vaccine. We are all hoping that this time frame will be shortened but there are no guarantees of when a vaccine will be available,” says Williams.

Doctors continue to emphasize the importance of infection prevention and control measures to slow the spread of the virus.

“For now, our best defense is social distancing and limiting your exposure to others to prevent transmission of the virus,” says Williams. “Stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, eat healthy foods and isolate yourself as much as possible.”

It is important to note that treatment information is changing daily, and medications are being added and removed based on evolving experience and information about COVID-19. 

Fortunately, most people who become ill with COVID-19 will be able to recover at home. However, if you begin to experience more severe symptoms, such as an elevated fever, shortness of breath and/or trouble breathing, seek immediate medical attention.

Get more information about coronavirus from Healthy Driven Chicago.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, our top priority is the safety and protection of patients, staff, physicians and the community. For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

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