A number of drugs and treatments are currently being used in the treatment of COVID-19. Here is an overview of what these are, when they are used, how they are used, at what stage they are used, and their general effectiveness.
DISCLAIMER: The details provided in this article are for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from a registered medical professional.
Dexamethasone is a commonly used steroid medication. It is used to ease symptoms and relieve inflammation in the lungs in patients with severe COVID-19 complications. This includes those needing oxygen, ventilation, or respiratory support. The drug does this by reducing the body’s immune reaction.
The use of steroids must be carefully monitored and only administered (either via injection or orally) by medical professionals.
Possible side effects include: reduced immunity, insomnia, increased appetite, weakness, increased blood sugar levels, headaches, and mood swings.
Tocilizumab is a drug that has been used to treat autoimmune conditions. It works by blocking a specific protein (known as Interleukin-6) that can cause an inflammation to become very severe.
It is used (often in combination with dexamethasone) for the treatment of severe or critical COVID-19 patients who require supplemental oxygen or ventilation to reduce inflammation, and its use can reduce the progression from oxygen to ventilation.
Possible side effects include: sore throat, runny nose, headache, dizziness, stomach cramps.
Anticoagulants, such as heparin, are given to thin the blood and prevent clots. It is used in some COVID-19 patients with severe illness who show symptoms of blood clotting or who are known to have a high risk of clots occurring.
Possible side effects include: excessive bleeding during menstruation, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, or spots of blood in urine and faeces.
Oxygen therapy is used to help patients who have trouble breathing and therefore can’t get enough oxygen naturally. Their oxygen levels are checked using devices like a pulse oximeter, and if oxygen saturation (SpO2) falls below 92%, supplemental oxygen can be delivered using a number of methods. These include oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders, or mechanical ventilators.
Since one of the effects of COVID-19 is respiratory and lung problems, external oxygen support is used as a temporary measure in moderate to severe cases until the patient is able to fight off the infection and breathe on their own again.
Possible risks include: getting too much oxygen (known as oxygen toxicity) or too little (leading to hypoxia), lung damage due to increased oxygen pressure, increased risk of infections, vocal cord issues.
Remdesivir is an antiviral drug that was created to fight Ebola. It does this by getting into the RNA of the virus and preventing it from making any copies.
It is sometimes used in patients with mild to serious COVID-19 infections to stop the virus from being able to replicate inside the body, and might be able to shorten the recovery time. However, some trials and reviews found that the drug has no significant effect on patient mortality, recovery time, or improvement. While the ICMR notes that it is an experimental drug to be used only in select cases, the WHO has issued a conditional recommendation against the use of remdesivir due to lack of evidence.
Possible side effects include: low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, sweating and shivering, low potassium, and low red-blood-cell count.
Convalescent Plasma Therapy
Convalescent plasma therapy is a form of treatment that uses blood plasma from people who've recovered from an illness or infection to help others recover. Their plasma might have antibodies that can help fight off the viruses or pathogens, helping speed up recovery and ease symptoms.
Plasma therapy was initially recommended for treatment of Covid-19 patients, as it was seen to shorten the hospitalization time when used within the first few days that patients showed symptoms.
However, healthcare experts noted that plasma therapy was not effective in reducing the progression to severe disease or mortality. They also found indications that it could lead to new mutant variants or strains of the virus. The ICMR has dropped the use of convalescent plasma from their recommended treatment guidelines for COVID-19.
Possible risks include: allergic reactions, transfusion-associated circulatory overload, transfusion-associated acute lung injury, immune-related tissue damage.