With a vaccine for COVID-19 still a long way off, people are looking elsewhere for advice and potential cures for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Unfortunately a lot of the information going around is unreliable and the recommendations are either unproven, erroneous and even potentially dangerous.
Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine
The antimalarial and lupus drug has been touted by a number of sources, including President Trump, as a cure for the virus. In early April 2020, Australian Health Minister, Greg Hunt secured Australia a supply of the drug, saying that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the curative properties of hydroxychloroquine thanks to some “promising trials” conducted overseas.
There have only been a handful of trials of the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 so far and the results have been negative or inconclusive . While the studies are inconclusive, this is not proof that hydroxychloroquine has no place in COVID-19 treatment, but more thorough study is needed to see what if any role it can play in treatment plans.
Both Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine can have some serious negative side effects, so without any evidence that the antimalarial drugs are effective there is little reason to put yourself through any of the following:
- Chest pain
- Fast or pounding heartbeat
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Low blood cell counts
- Low blood sugar
- Mood changes, feeling nervous or irritable
- Muscle weakness, numbness or tingling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Ringing in your ears
- Severe dizziness
- Skin rash or itching
- Stomach pain
- Very slow heart rate or weak pulse.
In addition, hydroxychloroquine is not recommended for people with a number of conditions, including:
- Heart disease or heart rhythm disorders
- Liver or kidney disease
- Quinine allergy
- Stomach disorders
Another drug that is being looked at with a great deal of interest at the moment is Remdesivir, an experimental antiviral medication . Remdesivir has shown some effectiveness slowing the reproduction of SARS and MERS (two previous coronavirus diseases) in lab conditions and testing is underway to see if it has a similar effect on COVID-19 .
The drug works by inhibiting part of the virus that creates an enzyme needed for its reproduction. This enzyme is virtually identical in the coronaviruses that cause SARS, MERS and COVID-19, so hopes are high. So far the drug has shown to reduce reproduction in a petri-dish and in animal testing. Two promising non-randomised, controlled trials using Remdesivir demonstrated a significant benefit in sicker patients with COVID-19. It appears that the earlier this is used when the significant symptoms begin, the better the effect. There are currently two large scale human trials taking place in China, as well as a number of smaller trials underway in America. The results of the Chinese trials are estimated to be available around April/May.
While some critically ill patients have been treated with high doses of intravenous vitamin C in other countries, there is no scientific or medical information that implies that this is an effective treatment. There have been some studies into using high doses of vitamin C (along with other treatments, such as thiamine and corticosteroids) had some promising effect in reducing mortality in people suffering from severe sepsis, but nothing related to COVID-19.
One study from Finland did demonstrate that taking Vitamin C in doses between 6-8Gms daily at the start of a cold reduced the length & severity of the common cold but this cannot be extrapolated to COVID-19.
While it may not have any beneficial effects, high doses of vitamin C also don’t have much in the way of negative side effects either, though it may lead to diarrhea in some cases.
Zinc is a nutrient used to maintain your immune system as well as assisting the body to make protein and DNA. Having a strong immune system allows you to fight off infections, so it seems natural that dosing up on Zinc could help you fight COVID-19. Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple.
Taking zinc supplements has been shown to reduce the duration and risk of catching the common cold. While the duration of the cold may have been reduced, the severity of the cold does not appear to be.
While some colds are caused by coronaviruses, the vast majority are caused by rhinoviruses (viruses that affect the upper respiratory tract). It appears as though zinc is somewhat effective for fighting rhinoviruses, but so far there have been no studies conducted into its efficacy on coronaviruses.
Unlike vitamin C, taking too much zinc can be a bad thing. The recommended maximum daily dose for adults is 40mg and for children it is 4mg. Taking large amounts of zinc can have negative side effects including:
- Copper deficiency
- Damage to the nervous system
- Loss of smell (in the case of overusing zinc nasal sprays)
In addition to vitamins, there are a number of other supplements, nutrients that people frequently turn to when trying to boost their immune system or fight off an upper respiratory infection. Echinacea, Andrographis (also known as Indian Echinacea) and Olive Leaf are all thought to have immune boosting or anti-viral properties . While there are many over the counter cold medicines and “immune boosting” supplements containing these ingredients available, there is not much evidence to show that they have a marked effect on the common cold and none to suggest that they can affect COVID-19.
Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest supplements that contain multiple “immune boosting” herbs, vitamins and supplements, such as ArmaForce, could help you avoid catching COVID-19 or lessen the symptoms if you do catch the virus.
Is There a Cure?
As it stands there are no miracle cures for COVID-19 or guaranteed way of avoiding the virus, but by staying home, ensuring you wash your hands thoroughly and maintain proper social distancing you are doing everything you can to minimise your risk of contracting the virus.