Coronavirus Treatments Currently in Use

April 10, 2020
There is no specific medication for COVID-19, but there are some coronavirus treatments currently in use for coronavirus that are still under investigation. They are largely reserved for critically ill patients.

The coronavirus treatments that are currently in use are a matter of fierce debate. There are differing interpretations of how these therapies can or cannot help both in the scientific world and in political circles.

As with many viral diseases, there’s still no specific treatment for coronaviruses. What scientists are looking for is a drug – or a combination of several of them – that will stop the virus replicating. Antibiotics aren’t viable in these cases, as they target bacteria. Nor can we consider anti-inflammatory drugs as a specific treatment. Instead, what health experts are promoting are supportive measures for breathing and the symptoms caused by COVID-19.

However, there are some current coronavirus treatments that certain protocols authorized for use in intensive therapy in different countries at the moment. However, there’s still no drug approved for mass use at the onset of symptoms.

The regulatory bodies of the pharmaceutical companies and laboratories are being more flexible than before in their regulations and legislation. They are allowing scientists to carry out trials more quickly. The World Health Organization (WHO) has more than 250 clinical trials currently underway for coronavirus treatment.

Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19

One of the first options discussed, as soon as the coronavirus pandemic began, was hydroxychloroquine. This is a classic drug that doctors use to treat malaria.

It’s one of the coronavirus treatments currently in use, mainly because of its anti-inflammatory capacities. Because of this characteristic, scientists have claimed it could diminish the respiratory distress associated with COVID-19, which often requires artificial respiration, and which has caused death in so many people.

Its main advantage is that it’s a cheap drug, but it also has many adverse effects. It can generate headaches, diarrhea, vomiting and skin rash.

A mosquito.
One of the treatment options for coronavirus is derived from the treatment of malaria, a disease spread by mosquitoes.

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The lopinavir/ritonavir combination as a current coronavirus treatment

One treatment option that scientists are currently studying is the combination of the drugs lopinavir and ritonavir. These are antiretrovirals that are used in HIV treatment. This takes into account the fact that it’s also an RNA virus, like SARS-CoV-2.

This combination has already been studied in previous outbreaks of coronavirus, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). There, the results were promising, leading researchers to deduce that it should be effective with coronavirus.

Unfortunately, the evidence so far is not as positive as before. However, in the absence of better and available alternatives, several countries have authorized its use in intensive care.

It isn’t a suitable treatment for all patients with coronavirus. Its use is limited to those who have a severe prognosis due to their symptoms, age, or underlying health issues. In those cases, doctors are combining it with interferon.

Find out more: The USA Is Testing a Vaccine Against Coronavirus

Remdesevir, the most promising of all the coronavirus treatments

One treatment for coronavirus currently in use that has a high chance of being more successful than the rest is remdesevir. Scientists tested it on the SARS and MERS epidemics in the last 20 years.

The drug is a derivative of an experiment conducted 10 years ago to find a treatment for Ebola. Scientists subsequently tested it against other viruses, including some coronaviruses. In the United States, it has already been used in two patients. Both of them improved, but this isn’t enough evidence to draw any real conclusions about its effectiveness.

One point that isn’t in its favor is that doctors can only apply it intravenously. This means that you can only use it in a hospital setting, or at home with coordinated nursing care.

Coronavirus treatment.
Remdesevir is a promising treatment for coronavirus, but it’s only available intravenously.

The search for coronavirus treatments continues

Currently, when a patient contracts COVID-19, doctors will put into motion a basic and supportive treatment protocol. If the symptoms are mild, then the patient self-isolates as home and complies with the usual measures for a flu-like condition.

If the case is moderate then it may require hospitalization, in which case they’ll receive more specific treatment, but usually without the use of antiretrovirals. There are specific cases endorsed by medical associations and ministries of health. In these cases, doctors will be able to apply one of the approved drugs.

What doctors and the health authorities are currently considering for the treatment of patients in intensive care is to combine the available alternatives based on the severity of the conditions that arise. Each national health ministry has drawn up specific guidelines for its health teams to be able to choose a medication based on local availability.

  • Holshue, Michelle L., et al. “First case of 2019 novel coronavirus in the United States.” New England Journal of Medicine (2020).
  • Yao, Xueting, et al. “In vitro antiviral activity and projection of optimized dosing design of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).” Clinical Infectious Diseases (2020).
  • Nicastri, Emanuele, et al. “National Institute for the Infectious Diseases “L. Spallanzani” IRCCS. Recommendations for COVID-19 Clinical Management.” Infectious Disease Reports 12.1 (2020).
  • Sheahan, Timothy P., et al. “Comparative therapeutic efficacy of remdesivir and combination lopinavir, ritonavir, and interferon beta against MERS-CoV.” Nature Communications 11.1 (2020): 1-14.