Coronavirus Facts: Medicine and Treatment
While some medications can alleviate COVID-19 symptoms, the fact is there is no medicine for coronavirus that can offer a cure at this time.
Meanwhile, researchers are studying which drugs work best — and in which patients — while trying to develop new treatments and a vaccine for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
People should not take any medicine that is experimental unless a doctor has prescribed it to them as part of a clinical trial.
If you have symptoms of coronavirus, call your doctor's office. If you do not have a doctor, you can call the UMMS Nurse Call Line, set up specifically to address COVID-19 questions, whether or not you are already a patient of UMMS.
The Facts About Coronavirus
While there are a lot of coronavirus myths floating around about what medications work for it, we have compiled the facts here and will update it as doctors and researchers gather more evidence about what works best.
Fact: If you have coronavirus, you might not need any medicine at all.
Those treating mild symptoms at home can take acetaminophen to reduce fever if they are very uncomfortable, but this will not shorten the disease or ease respiratory symptoms.
Concerns have been raised that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) might make COVID-19 symptoms worse.
Although the evidence is not clear, NSAIDs do not offer any benefit in recovering from COVID-19 and should be avoided until more is known. If you are taking ibuprofen or another NSAID for chronic pain or any other reason, you should talk to your doctor — particularly if you suspect you have coronavirus.
Fact: There is no single medicine to successfully treat COVID-19.
For mild cases, physicians are prescribing rest a home and plenty of liquids such as water, broth and juice.
For serious cases needing hospitalization, physicians will tailor the treatment to each patient, with therapies to support the patient's ability to breathe and fight off further infection, while the patient's immune system fights the virus.
Fact: Those with serious illness and/or trouble breathing should seek medical care.
Because the recommended over-the-counter medications do not treat respiratory symptoms, people experiencing trouble breathing should seek medical care, rather than trying to self-medicate.
There may not be one treatment that works for everyone who has severe respiratory symptoms, and doctors treating patients in the hospital are focused on helping patients to keep breathing.
Fact: Antibiotics will not kill a virus, but they might be used for severe cases of COVID-19.
Viruses that attack the lungs and prevent them from fully inflating can allow a secondary bacterial infection to occur. A doctor might prescribe an antibiotic to treat the bacterial infection. It won't cure COVID-19, but it can keep a bacterial infection from making things worse.
Fact: Alcohol, chlorine or disinfectants will not kill viruses already in your body.
Coronavirus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose, then quickly spreads into your cells. Once inside your cells, it cannot be killed except by your body's immune reaction.
To protect against the virus, use alcohol-based hand-sanitizers that kill virus and bacteria on your hands by drying out the particles before they enter your body, or wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Disinfectants, including alcohol and chlorine, can kill virus particles on surfaces BEFORE they can infect you. But chlorine bleach is very poisonous, so never put it in your mouth. If using bleach to disinfect surfaces, use 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.
Fact: There have been shortages of albuterol inhalers used by people with other respiratory conditions.
Contact your treating physician if you have trouble refilling your albuterol inhaler prescription.
If you have asthma or any chronic respiratory condition, contact your treating physician now, even if you are not sick, to make sure your prescriptions and doses are up to date, and get any other advice on what to do if your symptoms worsen.
Fact: A nebulizer used at home by a patient with symptoms of COVID-19 could spread the virus.
Nebulizers are small air-compressor machines that people with asthma breathe into and out of to administer a liquid form of albuterol. Exhalations through nebulizers used by someone with COVID-19 can spray the virus into the air. The virus can be present in the air of that room for up to two hours, according to asthma experts. This could potentially infect others.
If you know or suspect you may have COVID-19 and are using a nebulizer at home, talk to your doctor and follow their instructions around safe usage.
Fact: Researchers are working on a vaccine, but it will not be available until at least 2021.
Vaccines take time because they must be tested for safety and effectiveness. Researchers must make sure the vaccine does not cause an adverse reaction that might be worse than the disease.
Fact: The flu vaccine and pneumonia vaccine will not protect against COVID-19.
It is a good idea to get these vaccines regularly, but if you have not gotten them already, it might be safer to stay home during the pandemic. The measures you are taking to prevent catching the coronavirus will also lower your risk of getting the flu. Call your doctor for advice before going out to get any vaccine.
Fact: Scientists are trying to use antibodies of those who recovered to treat those who are sick.
One experimental therapy doctors are using is giving patients with severe COVID-19 a serum produced from the blood of people who have survived a COVID-19 infection.
After someone has had a viral infection, they have antibodies against the virus in their blood. These antibodies help them fight off the virus if they are exposed again, which results in either not getting sick or a mild illness.
Giving a serum from someone who has had COVID-19 to someone who is critically ill might allow the antibodies from the survivor to help the sick patient's immune system fight off the disease.
This type of treatment has been used since the early 1900s to treat polio, measles, mumps and influenza. More recently it was used in 2009 to try to help patients with H1N1 influenza and in 2013 to try to treat Ebola virus disease.
The treatment may be helpful but does have potentially severe side effects, and the benefits are not well understood.
Fact: Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are being investigated as treatment for COVID-19.
There is no evidence yet that either chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine is effective for treating COVID-19, nor what doses and combinations might be effective.
Some of the evidence in different studies conflict with each other or do not have a control arm. In one study, the patients were those who were not hospitalized and, therefore, were not severe cases to begin with.
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are FDA-approved for other conditions but must be taken only under a doctor's care. Both can have some serious potential side effects, including damage to the retina and to the heart.
An Arizona man died and his wife became critically ill after they took chloroquine phosphate, an additive for aquariums, mistakenly believing it might protect them from catching the virus. They had not been advised by a doctor to use this chemical.
Fact: Remdesivir is an experimental antiviral drug being investigated for use with COVID-19.
Antiviral drugs are drugs that stop or slow the virus's ability to reproduce itself after it has infected a person. Individual antiviral drugs work against only certain viruses. But some can work against more than one virus.
Remdesivir is not available except with permission for "compassionate use" or as part of a clinical trial. The manufacturer has federal approval to test it as antiviral therapy for COVID-19.
One study found that 36 of the 53 patients (68 percent) given the drug during hospitalization showed clinical improvement. The manufacturer funded that study, which was published online April 10, 2020, in the New England Journal of Medicine.
More testing is needed, as this medication has many severe adverse effects, including liver failure. University of Maryland Medical Center and many other medical centers are collaborating on research into this drug.
Fact: Vitamin C and zinc might help shorten the duration of the illness if you get COVID-19.
Purchase vitamin C from a reputable manufacturer, or include fruits and juices high in Vitamin C in your diet.
Zinc is an ingredient in several "natural" cold remedies, and studies indicate it may shorten the duration of the common cold. The novel coronavirus is part of a larger group of coronaviruses that includes the virus that causes the common cold.
Fact: There is no evidence garlic will protect against coronavirus.
While garlic as a food is healthy and has been shown to have some antimicrobial effects, it is very important to make sure your doctor knows if you are taking garlic pills or capsules.
Garlic and other known natural blood-thinners taken in pill or capsule form can increase the risk of bleeding during medical procedures, should you need hospitalization. Other supplements known to have this blood-thinning effect include ginger, ginkgo biloba, grape seed extract, turmeric and cinnamon.
Fact: Regularly rinsing the sinuses with salt water has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections.
There is limited evidence that regularly rinsing the nose and sinuses with saline (salt water), such as with a Neti Pot or nasal mist, can help people recover more quickly from the common cold. But there is no evidence yet about any effect of nasal rinsing on recovering from COVID-19.
If you do use such rinsing to alleviate nasal and sinus symptoms, make sure everything is thoroughly cleaned to avoid transmission of coronavirus in your household. For example, do not share a Neti Pot or saline spray bottle with anyone else.
Use only boiled and cooled water or bottled water to prepare the saline solution, to prevent getting a bacterial infection in your sinuses, which could be very dangerous.