The search for a treatment for COVID-19 continues, but there are a number of experimental drugs which are being tested globally. We thought we’d delve into what specifically is being trialled, and also dispel a number of myths surrounding treatment, with input from Dr Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead at Treated.com.
Just to be clear, at this stage there is no treatment for coronavirus. Because of this, the only way to limit the spread of the virus is to test, track and contact trace.
Treated.com provides two types of tests for the coronavirus. We offer a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test, which screens for current infection.
The second test we offer is the coronavirus antibody test, which detects previous infection from a blood sample provided at home and returned to our partner lab. People must have noticed symptoms 14 days or more ago before taking this test, and they should still continue to follow the advice of the government on social distancing, even if they test positive for coronavirus antibodies, because immunity is still not yet fully understood.
If you’re concerned that you may have contracted COVID-19, please make sure you follow the government advice on self-isolation. You should not attempt to source any of the treatments below, as testing for safety and effectiveness hasn’t been completed yet.
Remdesivir is an unlicensed antiviral drug manufactured by Gilead, and has been heavily involved in research to find an effective therapy for coronavirus. It’s currently being trialled in China, the US and the UK. It’s anticipated that the first results will be available in the upcoming weeks.
The drug, viewed as a possible treatment for Ebola, is designed to disrupt the reproduction of a virus in the body, and prevent it from multiplying. It has previously shown some activity against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which are coronaviruses similar in structure to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that results in COVID-19.
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine
In spite of the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating that there is no conclusive proof that chloroquine, and a derivative, hydroxychloroquine, work, these drugs have received a considerable amount of media exposure.
Chloroquine has been used in tablets to tackle symptoms of malaria, such as fever and inflammation, and it’s hoped that it can help combat the virus that leads to COVID-19.
President Trump has often spoken of the potential benefits of chloroquine in briefings at the White House, but ongoing trials of the drug are yet to produce sufficient evidence of its capacity to treat coronavirus effectively. It also carries risks of severe side effects, such as renal and liver damage, and there is growing concern that the drug may have potentially severe implications for people with existing heart disease.
Over 20 trials are currently being conducted, in countries including the UK, US, Spain and China. The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has permitted ‘emergency use’ of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, along with azithromycin, an antibiotic, for a number of hospitalised patients. While this isn’t an endorsement from the FDA that these anti-malarials work, it does mean that in certain cases, hospitals are able to make use of them from government stockpiles to treat COVID-19.
France has permitted doctors to prescribe chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for patients experiencing coronavirus, although the nation’s medical watchdog has cautioned against side effects. India’s health ministry has also advised that hydroxychloroquine can be used as a preventative measure in the case of healthcare workers, along with any households that have been in contact with COVID-19, provided that they have a prescription from a doctor. The government’s research body has however cautioned against unrestricted administration of the drug, and stated that it is only to be used in emergencies.
As part of the Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY (RECOVERY) trial, the combination of antivirals lopinavir-ritonavir, which are typically used to treat HIV, is going to be explored as a potential treatment for coronavirus.
The treatment prevents retroviruses, such as HIV and SARS-CoV-2, from reproducing in cells in the body. Recruitment for the trial is currently ongoing.
The British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is set to trial a drug called Calquence, which is used in the treatment of certain blood cancers. It’s the drug’s potential ability to tackle the severe immune response triggered by coronavirus in seriously ill patients that will be trialled.
Early clinical indications have suggested that restricting the inflammation caused by the immune response may reduce the impact that the virus has on the respiratory system.
It’s anticipated that the trial will get underway in the coming days across the US, and in several countries in Europe.
Calquence is a licensed treatment for adults with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in the US and a number of other countries.
COVID-Pre-Exposure prophylaxis (C-PrEP trial)
In light of the success of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in significantly reducing incidence rates of HIV, King’s College London have provided funding for a randomised controlled trial using a similar strategy. The drug is safe to use, and has shown activity against COVID-19 in laboratory studies.
Although little is understood about the effects of ibuprofen in treating the new coronavirus, research has indicated that a particular formulation of ibuprofen, issued at the right time, may lead to a reduction in serious complications from the virus.¹
Myths surrounding COVID-19
Because COVID-19 is a new condition which we’re still learning about, it’s receiving a huge amount of coverage across mainstream and social media. This has given rise to the spread of certain misinformation about the virus.
Here, we’ll address some of the popular myths we’ve seen and heard about the new coronavirus.
Consuming alcohol will protect me against COVID-19
Drinking alcohol does not prevent you from contracting the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). On the contrary, frequent or excessive alcohol consumption can put you at greater risk of developing health issues.
Taking a hot bath will prevent me from getting coronavirus
Hot baths do not protect you against the new coronavirus. Whatever the temperature of your bath or shower, your body temperature stays at approximately 36.5-37°C.
An extremely hot bath is in fact dangerous, as it can burn your skin.
‘The best means of safeguarding against COVID-19 is to wash your hands frequently. This eradicates any viruses that may be on your hands, and prevents the spread of any infection that could develop from subsequently touching your eyes, mouth or nose,’ says Dr Atkinson.
Exposing myself to the sun or to temperatures above 25°C will stop me from developing coronavirus
Regardless of how sunny or hot it is, you can contract COVID-19. There are reported cases of the new coronavirus in countries that experience hot weather.
Rinsing my nose with saline on a regular basis will guard against COVID-19 infection
There is no evidence to support that rinsing your nose with saline regularly will offer protection against the new coronavirus.
‘While there is a small amount of evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline can help people overcome colds more quickly, there is nothing to uphold that it prevents respiratory infections,’ Dr Atkinson explains.
Eating garlic will stop me from getting coronavirus
Although garlic may have certain antimicrobial benefits, there is no evidence that consuming garlic provides protection against the new coronavirus.
Antibiotics will prevent me from getting COVID-19, and can be used to treat the virus
Because 2019-nCoV is a virus, antibiotics are not effective, and therefore should not be used as either a preventative or treatment measure.
‘Antibiotics are an effective treatment for bacterial conditions only,’ notes Dr Atkinson.
‘The exception to this is if you are hospitalised with the new coronavirus; bacterial co-infection is possible with the virus, and in this case, you may be given antibiotics.’
Pneumonia vaccines will offer protection against coronavirus
Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus.
Because the virus has only very recently emerged, and is different, it requires its own vaccine. As discussed above, numerous trials are currently underway with a view to identifying a vaccine that will treat 2019-nCoV.
‘It should however be stressed that vaccination against other respiratory illnesses is strongly advised to protect your health,’ Dr Atkinson indicates.
Drinking plenty of water will prevent me from getting COVID-19
Although consuming water is good for our health, it doesn’t offer any protection against the new coronavirus.
All hand sanitisers can protect me from coronavirus
Only hand sanitisers that contain at least 60% alcohol offer true protection against the new coronavirus.
Avoiding ice cream and other cold foods can prevent the onset of COVID-19
There is no evidence to support that avoiding ice cream or other cold foods will prevent you from getting the new coronavirus.
1. King’s College London. King’s commits 500k in funding for new and immediate Coronavirus research. 2020.