There is still a long way to go before we see the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the good news is we now have better treatments for the disease. When COVID-19 first began its global assault, doctors were overwhelmed with the complexities of the virus and there was no playbook or rules to follow.
Today, according to Popular Science, we have a better handle on what drugs and methods are most effective in treating COVID-19 patients. Mortality rates have plummeted thanks to this knowledge.
For example, we know antibodies provide protection against the virus. But if a person contracts the disease, it takes time for the body to manufacture enough of its own antibodies to be effective. Doctors can boost the antibody response by giving these patients plasma, the liquid part of blood, from a recovered COVID-19 patient.
According to Kaiser Health News, the century-old treatment, called convalescent plasma therapy or convalescent serum therapy, uses blood products taken from those who have recovered from a viral infection and injects them into those who are still suffering. The practice was first used to combat the 1918 flu epidemic and has since been used to treat victims of Ebola, SARS, and H1N1 influenza. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the emergency use of convalescent plasma by doctors for critically ill patients with COVID-19 in March 2020.
Monoclonal antibodies made in laboratories can also shore up a patient's immune system, says Popular Science. Monoclonal antibodies help neutralize SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are highly recommended for those over the age of 65 or who have underlying medical conditions that put them at risk from severe illness. Drug companies Eli Lilly and Regeneron received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for their products. President Donald Trump received the Regeneron antibody treatment shortly after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, according to NBC News.
Antiviral drugs stop SARS-CoV-2 from infecting other cells but scientific studies on the effectiveness of this class of medications has been mixed. Remdesivir, the most widely used of the antiviral drugs was approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19 in October 2020, per Popular Science. Hydroxychloroquine is another popular antiviral drug that was promoted by President Trump, but ongoing trials suggested the drug was ineffective against severe COVID-19 and potentially risky. The FDA revoked its EUA for hospitalized patients and cautioned using hydroxychloroquine could be unsafe.
Steroids such as dexamethasone have been effective in reducing life-threatening inflammation caused by severe COVID-19. A meta-analysis of several scientific papers involving 1,700 coronavirus patients found that corticosteroid drugs offered consistent health benefits, including lowering mortality rates, in those who are seriously ill. The new study backs previous evidence these inexpensive medications show promise in treating COVID-19, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Last June, a British study found dexamethasone, a synthetic steroid that has been around for approximately 60 years, cut the risk of dying by 1/3 for patients on ventilators and 1/5 for those on oxygen, Axios reported. The study prompted the National Institutes of Health to update its guidelines and recommend the use of dexamethasone or similar steroids for patients on ventilators.
Other drugs that tame inflammation have also been found to be effective – sometimes – in treating COVID-19. Two drugs prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, Baricitinib and Tocilizumab, had mixed scientific results in treating COVID-19, according to Popular Science.
The same goes for using antibiotics or vitamins to treat the disease. While vitamin D has received a lot of publicity about its link to COVID-19, the scientific evidence is spotty, so experts recommend checking with your doctor to see if you could benefit from supplementation.
Two non-drug treatments have proven to be successful in reducing the severity and morality of COVID-19: Ventilators which provide needed oxygen to patients and proning, placing patients on their stomachs, both help those suffering from severe respiratory illness, according to Popular Science.
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