COVID-19 treatments: What works, what doesn't?

A hand hooked up to an IV.

Nov. 19, 2020— Researchers have been hard at work ever since the coronavirus arrived on the scene to discover treatments that can help fight the virus that causes COVID-19. And they're learning new information every day.

While only one treatment has been officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many others have been OK'd for emergency use or for study in clinical trials.

At the same time, rumors and scams have circulated about fake treatments and home remedies that can do real damage if used.

So here's a rundown of some of the most common potential treatments you may have heard of—and what the science really says.

Remdesivir: May help

Remdesivir is an antiviral drug. It limits the growth of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the body. It has been OK'd for treatment of COVID-19 for most hospitalized patients. Remdesivir is the only drug specifically approved by FDA for the treatment of COVID-19.

Bamlanivimab: May help

Bamlanivimab is a monoclonal antibody. It's meant to mimic the body's natural defenses. FDA has authorized it for emergency use for treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19. It may help keep those patients from progressing to more severe illness. But it has not been shown to be effective in patients who are already hospitalized with severe COVID-19. In fact, it may worsen the condition of patients who require oxygen or ventilation.

Corticosteroids: May help

Patients with severe COVID-19 can develop inflammation that can damage the lungs and other organs. Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that may slow that response. Dexamethasone is one of the drugs being studied. In one study, patients who required oxygen or ventilation did better on the drug than those who didn't receive it. Corticosteroids appear to only benefit patients who need oxygen support.

Convalescent plasma: Unclear

Convalescent plasma is derived from the blood of people who have recovered from COVID-19. The theory is that patients may benefit from its antibodies against the virus. In August, FDA OK'd convalescent plasma for emergency use in hospitalized patients with COVID-19, and studies are ongoing. But there is not yet enough evidence for or against its use as a treatment.

Interferons: Unclear

Interferons are chemicals that can act as antivirals early in the course of infection. However, they can also have serious side effects. Interferons are not recommended for patients with severe COVID-19. And there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against them in the early stages of the disease.

Vitamin and mineral supplements: Unclear

Some people have suggested that vitamin C, vitamin D or zinc may have anti-inflammatory effects that could help fight COVID-19, could strengthen the immune system or could slow replication of the virus. Some clinical trials are being planned, but there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against these supplements right now. And people should be aware that taking supplements like zinc in higher than recommended doses can be harmful.

Hydroxychloroquine: Doesn't help

Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat some autoimmune diseases. But it hasn't been shown to be effective for COVID-19. In one large trial, patients with COVID-19 who received the drug had longer hospital stays than patients who did not get it. In another, it increased the risk for cardiac death.

Interleukin-6 (IL-6) inhibitors: Don't help

Inflammation and respiratory failure due to COVID-19 can produce high levels of IL-6 cytokines in the body. The theory is that lowering levels of IL-6 may affect the course of the disease. But early evidence from clinical trials found that two IL-6 inhibitors were not effective treatments for COVID-19. There is not enough data to find a third IL-6 inhibitor effective.

Bleach-related products: Dangerous

Because bleach is a disinfectant, some people questioned whether it could be used to combat the virus internally. But that would be extremely dangerous. Bleach and other disinfectants can be poisonous if swallowed. They also can irritate your skin and eyes. Diluted bleach and disinfectants like methanol and ethanol should only be used to disinfect surfaces. And FDA warns that products containing chlorine dioxide (sometimes sold as Miracle Mineral Solution) are not safe to ingest.

Colloidal silver: Dangerous

Colloidal silver is made up of tiny particles of silver in a liquid. It's often advertised on the internet as a dietary supplement. But there's no evidence colloidal silver has any benefits for your health. And it can cause serious side effects. In fact, there are no legally marketed drugs containing colloidal silver that are ingested by mouth.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation: Dangerous

UV lamps have been used to disinfect surfaces, air or protective equipment. But they should never be used on the body. UV radiation can harm your eyes and damage your skin.

To learn more about what to do if you get sick, visit our Coronavirus health topic center.

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