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Are There Any Old Medicines Being Considered for New COVID Treatment

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There are no FDA approved drugs to treat COVID-19.  All treatments are being actively studied to accumulate evidence and gather safety information.  We know people can become gravely ill once infected with coronavirus, and the race to try older medications as a potential treatment for COVID-19 is on, but this race can be dangerous. We only need look back a few months when hydroxychloroquine was announced as an effective early treatment to later being found to have no significant therapeutic effect.

Most hospitals around the world have internal protocols to treat mild, moderate and critically ill patients affected with COVID-19.  Many protocols include medications that have FDA approval for other diseases and are now being studied and given to patients with COVID-19  after showing early benefits. Some of the names may sound familiar to you and you may be wondering about them especially if you are currently taking one for another condition.

One of these medications is Pepcid (famotidine) which is used to treat mild heartburn. The studies with famotidine are observational and noted that those patients who received famotidine had improved outcomes.  The idea is that perhaps the drug inhibits the virus from replicating.

Another drug in many hospitalized patients is Stromectol (ivermectin). For decades ivermectin has been used as a potent drug for parasitic worm infections.  There is only tentative evidence for it’s benefit but is being used around the world. This study in Science direct shows the antiviral properties of ivermectin in laboratory cells in Australia.

Decadron (dexamethasone) is a cheap and widely available steroid. It blunts many types of immune responses and doctors use it for allergies, asthma and many illnesses. In June this study  showed that use of dexamethasone reduced COVID-19 deaths. That study included more than 6,000 people, and found that dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in patients on ventilators, and by one-fifth in patients on oxygen. It may be less likely to help patients who are at an earlier stage of Covid-19 infections, however.

Next up is Colcrys (colchicine) which is a familiar drug to those who suffer from gout. It is used for arthritic inflammatory diseases and has a relatively good safety profile. There is limited data on its benefits, this Greek study observes the effects of colchicine on hospitalized patients.

The NIH has published its current treatment guidelines  here. This document includes many of the drugs mentioned above and others that are being tried in many hospitals in the United States.

If you are interested in keeping up with emerging drugs in the fight against COVID-19, the New York Times keeps an ongoing drug and treatment tracker here, that is updated weekly.

Here you can find information on drugs that are promising with hope and require further research and others which have been tried and have little benefit.

The landscape of COVID-19 is changing with each day and we hope we will have more drugs in our arsenal to fight back.

(Prerana Sangani, MD, August 24, 2020)