No current medicine can prevent or cure COVID-19, but large, international research programs are working hard to develop possible treatments and vaccines. Some available medications can help alleviate mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have removed the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19. Based on a review of the latest research, the FDA determined that these drugs are not likely to be an effective treatment for COVID-19 and that the risks of using them for this purpose outweigh any benefits.
The FDA have created an emergency program to investigate possible COVID-19 treatments. As of September 2020, more than 550 drug development programs are underway, and the FDA have reviewed 350 trials.
- a fever or chills
- shortness of breath
- aching muscles
- a new loss of taste or smell
- congestion or a runny nose
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly 1 in 5 people with COVID-19 develop severe illness and have difficulty breathing.
Not all people with a SARS-CoV-2 infection display symptoms. When symptoms arise, they are usually mild. Around 80% of people recover from COVID-19 without specialized medical treatment.
This article looks at the list of currently available medications that may relieve mild COVID-19 symptoms. It also looks at experimental antiviral drugs and other COVID-19 treatments and vaccines in development.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help relieve symptoms of COVID-19, such as mild body aches, pains, and fever.
Acetaminophen belongs to a class of drugs called analgesics and antipyretics.
Analgesics help relieve mild-to-moderate pain, including joint and muscle pain, headaches, and sore throats.
Antipyretics help reduce fever by inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme from producing inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins cause fever by acting on the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin can reduce fever, pain, and inflammation.
Similar to acetaminophen, NSAIDs interfere with prostaglandin production and reduce fever. In addition, NSAIDs possess anti-inflammatory and anti-blood clotting effects.
In one study, researchers hypothesized that ibuprofen might actually worsen COVID-19 in patients by increasing the expression of an enzyme that facilitates SARS-CoV-2 infections. The enzyme is known as angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).
The study did not look specifically at COVID-19 patients taking ibuprofen, but the study authors theorized that increased ACE2 expression could contribute to SARS-CoV-2 infections and increase the risk of developing severe symptoms.
However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) all released similar statements stating the contrary. They concurred that the current scientific data do not suggest an association between NSAID use and clinical COVID-19 outcomes.
Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription cough medications can help relieve persistent coughing and sore throat. There are two different types of cough medication, which are known as expectorants and suppressants.
Expectorants, sold under brand names such as Robitussin and Mucinex, help thin and loosen mucus, making it easier to expel from the lungs.
Cough suppressants, such as dextromethorphan (Delsym) and codeine, inhibit the body’s cough reflex. While this type of medication may help treat a persistent dry cough, it cannot clear up congestion.
Antivirals refer to a group of prescription drugs that can reduce the intensity and duration of viral infections.
Antivirals target viruses in someone who already has an infection. Some antivirals prevent viruses from replicating, while others interfere with a virus’s ability to infect new host cells.
Companies and researchers around the world are currently testing existing antivirals or attempting to develop new ones to treat COVID-19.
The largest current international trial, which the WHO launched, is Solidarity, which aims to find an effective treatment for COVID-19. This trial involves input from more than 100 countries.
Medications to help treat COVID-19 that are currently under consideration include:
Remdesivir is a new broad-spectrum antiviral from Gilead Sciences.
Veklury was the first drug to have FDA approval to treat COVI|D-19. It is approved to treat diagnosed or suspected COVID-19 in certain hospitalized people. The drug was previously granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA.
The drug favipiravir, also known as Avigan, is a broad-spectrum antiviral from Fujifilm Toyama Chemical.
Favipiravir appears especially effective against RNA viruses such as influenza and rhinovirus. Evidence from clinical case studies suggests that favipiravir effectively prevents and treats Ebola virus infections.
A research team is currently investigating the safety and efficacy of favipiravir for treating moderate COVID-19. Its phase 3 clinical trial began on March 25, 2020. Phase 3 trials are late stage, large-scale studies.
Several other therapies that show potential as COVID-19 treatments are currently in phase 3 clinical trials. These include:
- tocilizumab (Actemra), an anti-arthritis drug
- bucillamine, another anti-arthritis drug
- apixaban (Eliquis), a blood thinner
- heparin, a blood thinner
What about hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine?
Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are oral medications that doctors use to treat malaria.
The FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for both drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 on March 28, 2020. However, they revoked this authorization on June 15, 2020, after evidence emerged that the potential risks outweighed the benefits.
Convalescent plasma therapy treats infectious diseases. It involves transferring the plasma of a person who developed antibodies to a specific virus to an individual who has the same infection.
COVID-19 convalescent plasma therapy is when healthcare professionals collect plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19. The plasma contains antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
In the United States, an EUA allows healthcare professionals to use convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 in hospitalized patients. Research is ongoing into its efficacy and best practices for its use.
Convalescent plasma therapy is not the same as treatment with a vaccine.
The FDA have declared their intention to find a vaccine for COVID-19 as quickly as possible without risking any vaccine’s safety, effectiveness, or quality.
In a statement, they write: “We are committed to expediting the development of COVID-19 vaccines, but not at the expense of sound science and decision making.”
More than 100 possible vaccines are under development, some of which are currently at the human trial stage.
The U.S. is working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine alongside several companies, including Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson. The initiative is known as Operation Warp Speed.
People can keep up to date with advances in the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines through the Department of Health & Human Services website.
OTC and prescription medication can help alleviate mild-to-moderate symptoms of COVID-19.
Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and NSAIDs, can help lower fever and relieve muscle aches. NSAIDs can also reduce inflammation. People who have difficulty clearing mucus from their lungs may benefit from using expectorant cough medication.
- serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- obesity, or a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher
- sickle cell disease
- a weakened immune system from a solid organ transplant
- type 2 diabetes
Researchers and healthcare professionals around the world are working on testing or developing new therapeutic options for people with COVID-19.