COVID-19 treatments: Fact vs. fiction

Researchers across the country are working to develop a vaccine and treatments for the coronavirus. But currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved anything to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19.

Several possible treatments have made headlines on TV news and on social media, so Baylor College of Medicine experts are sorting out what’s true and what’s not.

Hydroxycholoroquine and chloroquine

These two drugs have come up frequently in the conversation about COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine is currently used as an anti-inflammatory treatment for people with autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Chloroquine is used to prevent and treat malaria. Both drugs are being tested as a COVID-19 treatment in clinical trials.

According to infectious diseases specialist Dr. Jill Weatherhead, there are mixed results published in small studies as well as conflicting anecdotal evidence regarding the benefit of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for COVID-19 patients. Weatherhead warns both drugs can have potential harmful side effects and need much more stringent testing before they can be offered to the public.

“We need large randomized, controlled studies to make determinations if these treatments are safe and effective, and those studies are underway,” she said. “In the scientific community, we hold our evaluation of drugs and development of diagnostic tests to a high standard. We want to make sure that how we’re testing the efficacy of drugs is held to that standard despite the desire to get these treatments out as quickly as possible.”

Pain reliever debate: acetaminophen or ibuprofen?

Some reports have suggested that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can be harmful for COVID-19 patients. The FDA has said there is no scientific evidence linking ibuprofen to more severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Laila Woc-Colburn says inflammation, pain and fever naturally occur during infection. However, problems can arise if people take too high a dose of NSAIDs to treat that inflammation.

“NSAIDs can cause kidney damage and stomach ulceration in some patients, so it is a good idea to avoid their use in critically-ill patients or sick persons who have pre-existing kidney dysfunction or stomach ulcer disease.”

Woc-Colburn recommends using acetaminophen, better known as Tylenol, over ibuprofen, but only in moderation and no more than two grams per day. Patients with COVID-19 should drink plenty of water and rest. If you develop shortness of breath, contact your doctor.

Avoid alternative therapies

Promises of alternative therapies to cure and treat COVID-19 are spreading quickly on social media. But the FDA has already flagged many of these treatments as fraudulent. One company claims to have a “miracle mineral solution” made of chlorine dioxide that can treat or prevent COVID-19. In reality, FDA warns the substance can cause life-threatening injuries.

Dr. Donald Marcus, professor emeritus of medicine and immunology at Baylor, warns that alternative therapies can compromise the health and safety of those who take them. In a commentary recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, he explains that herbal remedies and dietary supplements have not been scientifically proven to treat health problems.

“Many people are anxious and frightened about the coronavirus,” he said. “Some people may have trouble accessing conventional medicine. Some want to try to do everything possible, so they may be more likely to turn to alternative remedies. But in addition to not giving any benefits, those alternative remedies can actually cause harm.”

Additional Resources

What do doctors want you to know about the novel coronavirus?

See more information on managing coronavirus symptoms.

-By Molly Chiu


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