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No current medicine can prevent or cure COVID-19, but some medications may help alleviate symptoms and manage the impact of the virus.

A coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 causes the disease COVID-19. It triggers an inflammatory response throughout the body that can result in damage to the lungs and various body systems.

When the virus emerged in 2019, doctors did not know how to treat it. Since then, scientists have been working round the clock to identify treatment options, and now some therapies are becoming available.

This article looks at the medications currently available for treating symptoms at home and in the hospital. It also looks at the options for vaccines.

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Acetaminophen (Tylenol), also known as paracetamol, can help relieve symptoms such as mild body aches, pains, and fever.

Acetaminophen is an analgesic and antipyretic. Analgesics help relieve mild-to-moderate pain. Antipyretics help reduce fever by preventing the production of prostaglandins, which affect the regulation of body temperature.

Acetaminophen is available over the counter and online.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, can reduce fever, pain, and inflammation.

Similar to acetaminophen, NSAIDs reduce fever. They also have anti-inflammatory and anti-blood-clotting effects.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors of one study hypothesized that ibuprofen might worsen COVID-19 by increasing the expression of an enzyme that facilitates SARS-CoV-2 infections. The enzyme is known as angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). They believed this could increase the risk of developing severe symptoms.

However, the study did not look specifically at people who were taking ibuprofen with COVID-19.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say there is not enough evidence to suggest that NSAID use will have a negative impact on clinical COVID-19 outcomes.

Ibuprofen is available for purchase over the counter or online.

Learn more here about acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Cough medications may help manage coughing and a sore throat. There are two different types of cough medication.

Expectorants, 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. This type of medication may help treat a persistent dry cough.

A range of cough medicines is available for purchase online.

Find out more about cough and cold medications.

Remdesivir (Veklury) is a new, broad-spectrum antiviral drug that may slow the development of the virus in the body.

Antiviral drugs can reduce the intensity and duration of viral infections. Some antivirals prevent viruses from replicating, while others help stop the virus from infecting new cells.

Research suggests remdesivir can reduce recovery time for people who are receiving hospital treatment for a lung infection due to COVID-19.

Veklury was the first drug to have FDA approval to treat COVID-19.

In some cases, doctors may prescribe dexamethasone or another corticosteroid off-label for people who are in the hospital with severe symptoms of COVID-19.

Dexamethasone can help reduce inflammation and manage septic shock. Alongside antiviral therapy, it may help prevent severe symptoms and damage to the lungs and various body systems.

A preliminary report published in July 2020 suggested that it may reduce the risk of fatality due to severe symptoms.

However, corticosteroids can have severe adverse effects, which means a doctor must monitor their effects carefully. They are for short-term use only.

In November 2020, the FDA gave Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for doctors to prescribe bamlanivimab, in some cases.

Bamlanivimab is a neutralizing monoclonal antibody. It targets a part of the spike protein that enables SARS-CoV-2 to enter cells. In other words, it may stop the virus from entering cells.

Doctors may use it for people with symptoms of COVID-19 who are not in the hospital but have a high risk of developing severe illness due to their age or an existing health condition.

However, there is little evidence to show whether it works or not. In addition, supplies of this drug are limited. Until research is complete, experts do not recommend widespread use of this drug.

EUA is not the same as full FDA approval. If further evidence suggests that the risks of using a drug outweigh the benefits, the FDA may withdraw the EUA.

Baricitinib is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor that has approval for treating rheumatoid arthritis. It may help reduce the immune response and manage inflammation.

According to guidelines from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), doctors can use baricitinib under EUA approval. They can use it to treat COVID-19 in people aged 2 years and over, who are in the hospital and receiving remdesivir (Veklury) and oxygen therapy or assisted breathing.

Convalescent plasma therapy involves transferring the plasma of a person who developed antibodies to a specific virus to an individual who has the same infection. In this way, it can help treat infectious diseases.

In COVID-19 convalescent plasma therapy, 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 people who are in the hospital. Research is ongoing into its efficacy and best practices for its use.

Convalescent plasma therapy is not the same as treatment with a vaccine.

Various bodies around the world have been working to develop a vaccine to protect people from COVID-19. Some vaccines now have approval, and many countries have started vaccination programs.

In the U.S., two vaccines currently have FDA approval: the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccinations started in December 2020, and health authorities are working to vaccinate as many of the population as possible. The vaccine is free for all U.S. individuals. Each person will need two doses.

Learn more about COVID-19 and vaccines here.

Several other therapies are currently undergoing trials but do not yet have approval for use.

These include:

  • tocilizumab (Actemra), an anti-arthritis drug
  • bucillamine, another anti-arthritis drug
  • heparin, a blood thinner
  • ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug that may have antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects
  • favipiravir, an antiviral drug that appears effective against ebola

Favipiravir already has approval for use in Italy, China, and some other countries, but not yet in the U.S.

What about hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine?

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are oral medications that doctors use to treat malaria.

In March 2020, the FDA issued an EUA for both drugs to treat COVID-19. However, they revoked this authorization 3 months later, after evidence emerged that the potential risks outweighed the benefits.

If a person has mild-to-moderate symptoms of COVID-19, a doctor will likely recommend they isolate at home, rest, and use over-the-counter medication to relieve pain, fever, and a cough.

They may recommend bamlanivimab, a monoclonal antibody drug, if the person does not need to go to the hospital but is at risk of developing severe symptoms.

For people who are in the hospital with moderate-to-severe symptoms, the doctor may prescribe remdesivir (Veklury), an antiviral drug that can help slow the growth of the virus. They may also prescribe dexamethasone, a corticosteroid that can help reduce inflammation.

Vaccines are starting to become available, and the first people received their initial dose in December. However, it will take time to reach everyone and some people will not have the vaccine.

While experts continue to work toward effective therapies for COVID-19, the best strategy is to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Ways of doing this include frequent handwashing, avoiding contact with others where possible, and wearing a face covering in public places.

Here are some more tips on preventing transmission of COVID-19.