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Health Team

Remdesivir 'not home-run medication' but can help seriously ill COVID patients

Posted October 5, 2020 3:11 p.m. EDT
Updated October 5, 2020 8:34 p.m. EDT

— President Donald Trump has been given a combination of treatments to battle coronavirus since checking into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday, including what one Triangle physician called the two best weapons against the virus for patients with difficulty breathing.

"For patients who are sick enough to need it, I think dexamethasone is option 1A maybe and remdesivir is option 1B," said Dr. Thomas Holland, associate professor of infectious diseases at Duke University Hospital.

Dexamethasone is a steroid that reduces inflammation in and around the lungs, which can make it difficult to get enough oxygen into the blood. The treatment isn't recommended for mild COVID-19 cases, though, because it could help the virus replicate and make the infection worse.

Remdesivir is an antiviral medication that University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers helped develop. The drug hasn't been approved for widespread use, but clinical trials have shown that it helps people with severe cases of COVID-19 to shorten their hospital stays.

"When I went in the hospital, I was sick as a dog," said Harold Lassiter, of Fayetteville, who received a five-day course of remdesivir in May. "On my third day of taking it, two hours a day, my third day, I was breathing on my own with no help, no oxygen, no nothing. So, that’s how good that drug was."

More than 300 patients at Duke Hospital have received remdesivir in recent months, Holland said. UNC Health spokesman Alan Wolf said more than 800 patients at the hospital system's various facilities have received remdesivir, and about three-fourths of those patients also have received dexamathasone.

"It’s not a home-run medication," Holland said of remdesivir. "But it is something we think is helpful for at least some of our patients."

Trump receiving the drug for his infection "will reinforce that this is a medication that we should be using," Holland said.

Still, he said, it's concerning that the president needed the combination of treatments, along with an injection of antibodies.

"That would imply that he has COVID pneumonia that’s severe enough that he is requiring supplemental oxygen," Holland said.

Lassiter said he hopes Trump can recover from his infection as well as he has, noting that he's back to about 95 percent of normal.

"COVID is real. Until it hits home, we really don’t know how serious it is, but it was a scary moment for me," he said. "The president kind of downplayed how serious COVID was. ... Now he knows how serious it is."

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