Treatments for COVID-19: Update for hospitalists


Most patients with COVID-19 will have a mild presentation and not require hospitalization or any treatment. Inpatient management revolves around the supportive management of the most common complications of severe COVID-19, which includes pneumonia, hypoxemic respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and septic shock.

Dr. Melissa Tiyouh, an infectious diseases physician at Keystone Health in Chambersburg, Pa

Dr. Melissa Tiyouh

Currently, there is no clinically proven specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. A few antivirals and treatment modalities have been studied and used, with the hope of decreasing mortality and improving recovery time for those with moderate to severe cases of COVID-19.


The antiviral remdesivir was the second drug to receive emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of suspected or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 in adults and children hospitalized with severe disease. Severe disease is defined as patients with an oxygen saturation less than 94% on room air or requiring supplemental oxygen or requiring mechanical ventilation or requiring extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

Remdesivir is a nucleotide analogue that has shown in vitro antiviral activity against a range of RNA viruses. It acts by causing premature termination of viral RNA transcription. Remdesivir is administered intravenously and the recommended dose is 200 mg on day 1, followed by 100 mg daily for various time courses.

A few clinical studies have reported benefits of remdesivir rather than no remdesivir for treatment of severe COVID-19 in hospitalized patients. The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) recommends 5 days of remdesivir in patients with severe COVID-19 on noninvasive supplemental oxygen and 10 days treatment for those on mechanical ventilation and ECMO. In a randomized, uncontrolled, phase 3 trial, investigators compared 5-day (n = 200) versus 10-day (n = 197) courses of remdesivir in patients with severe COVID-19. Clinical data revealed no differences in outcomes in the two groups.

Dr. Divya Tenneti

Dr. Divya Tenneti

Common reported adverse effects of the drug include elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and/or aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and hematochezia. There is insufficient data on using remdesivir in patients requiring dialysis.


Is dexamethasone effective for treating COVID-19? In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, corticosteroids were not recommended with the fear that, if started too soon, you could blunt the body’s natural defense system and that could allow the virus to thrive. Recent clinical data has shown clinical benefits and decreased mortality with the use of dexamethasone in patients with severe COVID-19 infection because glucocorticoids may modulate inflammation-mediated lung injury and reduce progression to respiratory failure and death.

The Recovery Trial was an open label study which used 6-mg once-daily doses of dexamethasone for up to 10 days or until hospital discharge if sooner. The study concluded that the use of dexamethasone for up to 10 days in hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19 resulted in lower 28-day mortality than usual care.

Dexamethasone is recommended in COVID-19 patients who require supplemental oxygen. If dexamethasone is not available, alternative forms of steroids – prednisone, methylprednisolone, or hydrocortisone – can be used. However, there is no clear evidence that the use of other steroids provides the same benefit as dexamethasone.

Both the IDSA and National Institutes of Health guidelines have recommended the use of steroids. However, clinicians should closely monitor the adverse effects like hyperglycemia, secondary infections, psychiatric effects, and avascular necrosis.


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