Study says drug could help treat COVID, but Summit County doctors wait for more data before prescribing it regularly
A recent study out of the University of Oxford suggests dexamethasone, a widely-used steroid, could prevent the death of patients severely affected by the novel coronavirus.
At St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, at least one patient with the virus has been prescribed the drug, but doctors are holding off on using it as a standard practice for COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Marc Doucette, emergency department medical director for the hospital.
Thomas Elliott, who lives in Fairplay, was prescribed dexamethasone as part of his treatment for the virus.
He said he decided to get tested for the virus once he heard that Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson tested positive. Elliott, who is a photographer, went to protests of the killing of George Floyd on June 8, where he took pictures and was in close proximity to Jackson.
At that point, Elliott had only had “sniffles,” which he attributed to allergies.
“It kind of crossed my mind that this might be real,” he said. “I called my doctor and he said you have to get a coronavirus test.”
On Tuesday, June 23, Elliott’s symptoms had progressed to the point where he could barely breathe. At that moment, he decided it would be best to go to the hospital.
“My oxygen was at 74 that morning and I started to feel numb and my body was tingly,” he said.
Elliott describe his experience at the hospital as something akin to “Star Trek.” He said there were protective shields and barriers keeping him from nurses and doctors, but he felt he was well taken care of and the service was “excellent.”
Elliott had read about the steroid and asked his doctor if he could be prescribed it, he said. So far, he hasn’t experienced any of the side effects, but it has made him feel more energetic.
“I would say it makes me feel wired. It’s like drinking a full pot of coffee in 15 minutes or something,” he said. “As far as curing coronavirus, I have no idea.”
Dexamethasone is commonly used for patients with asthma attacks, allergic reactions and inflammatory diseases, Doucette said. Recently data has suggested that the drug can help patients affected by the virus.
“It was demonstrated to show some benefit in survival in critically ill COVID patients, i.e. patients who require high amounts of oxygen or who are on a ventilator,” Doucette said.
According to the Oxford study, dexamethasone reduced death by one-third in patients who were using a ventilator. However, there is some evidence that suggests the drug does not help in mild cases of the virus.
“At this point we don’t have data to support prescribing it, certainly not as a preventative measure or as a treatment of mild symptoms,” Doucette said. “But the study is promising for patients who are severely ill.”
While the drug is not being used as standard practice for St. Anthony’s COVID-19 patients, it’s not out of the question for a doctor to prescribe it in certain circumstances like Elliott’s, Doucette said.
“We certainly look forward to more data becoming available,” he said. “Before we protocol a certain treatment or medication, we like to have strong scientific evidence that it’s beneficial.”
Elliott is still experiencing symptoms of the virus and is currently using an oxygen tank to help his breathing. He’s had nausea, dizziness, diarrhea and a “mental fog.”
“Us middle-aged people, we’re getting this mental fog,” he said. “Maybe that’s the scariest part for me, I’ve had diarrhea, I’ve had stomach aches, I’ve had chills. All of that I’ve had before, but this mental fog is confusing and depressing. It causes this agitation. You’re always agitated.”
Elliott has been using the time while in isolation to share his experience on Facebook. He said his community has supported him while he’s been sick.
He wants to urge people to take the virus seriously, because it hits everyone different. In Elliott’s case, his doctor said he could have symptoms for months. He’s also never shown a fever since he first started experiencing symptoms around 20 days ago.
“I’m going to live, I’m not scared I’m going to die,” he said. “I’m going to be suffering here for a couple of months on oxygen, not able to do the things I want to do.”
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