How doctors are treating COVID-19 & the side effects

How doctors are treating COVID-19 & the side effects

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Every day, doctors are treating those infected with the novel coronavirus. While sadly some lives are lost, some are spared thanks to treatment. What does that treatment look like?

Dr. Akaram Haggag is the hospital program director at Crestwood Medical Center in Huntsville. He explained various treatment options for those infected with the disease.

“We test them. We run some X-rays and labs to see their vitals," said Haggag. "Then we decide if they’re low risk or high risk.”

Low-risk patients are asked to self-quarantine at home. Best case scenario is this patient avoids hospital or doctor office visits and first calls their primary care physician who can get them tested and diagnosed without possibly infecting others.

High-risk patients are admitted into the hospital.

“There is no FDA-approved medicine for coronavirus," stated Haggag. "Unfortunately, that virus is relatively new, of course, and it can cause something called ARDS. The virus will cause a storm and keep replicating and attacking our system.”

Haggag says severely sick patients are either hooked up to a machine to help them breathe or given a cocktail of meds, which is controversial.

Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, commonly known as a Z-Pak, have been given to patients under strict guidance and order of an infectious disease physician.

“It suppresses the bad cells that are infected with the virus, and, of course, it can cause some side effects because it can damage the normal cells as well," said Haggag.

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug created during World War II to treat malaria. Today it is used by those with lupus.

In a statement, the Alabama Pharmacy Association says “there is almost no evidence for its effectiveness in preventing COVID-19.”

Haggag says there is still a lot to learn about this disease.

At least one patient at Crestwood has responded well to the drug, but it’s too early to tell for others, according to Haggag.

Outside of its effectiveness in treatment, medical professionals are concerned about hydroxychloroquine supply.

“Where we order from, we’re not able to. They’re out of stock," stated Dr. Ashley Watson, a pharmacist at Sparkman Pharmacy.

Tracy Rode, president and CEO of the Lupus Foundation of America’s Mid-South chapter (Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky), says she is concerned about the prescription supply as well.

Normally, she is given a 60-day or 90-day supply of the drug. Right now, she is only getting a 14-day supply because of pharmacy shortages.

Rode suggests calling around to other local pharmacies, trying discounted online services (GoodRx) if your insurance limits your options or trying compounded pharmacies.

When asked about state supply of hydroxychloroquine, Dr. Spencer Durham with the Alabama Pharmacy Association issued the following statement:

“The supply of the drug is going to vary from pharmacy to pharmacy depending on their supplier. Early in the outbreak, I know many pharmacies were receiving unnecessary prescriptions for this drug, which lead to initial concern for patients who are on it for things like lupus, and also the fact that there is almost no evidence for its effectiveness in preventing COVID-19. Anecdotally, I know that many pharmacies began reserving a supply for their patients on it chronically. Unfortunately, there just is not data on how much there is currently in the state.”

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