The stories of seemingly promising medications that did not pan out as treatments for COVID-19, including, most famously, the malaria medication hydroxychloroquine, has left many researchers wary. However, here is some good news in the fight against COVID-19.
According to certain topline results from a clinical trial in Canada, colchicine, an inexpensive oral tablet already known and used to treat gout, improved COVID-19 outcomes for patients with mild cases and reduced the risk of complications and death by 21%.
What Is Colchicine?
Colchicine is an oral anti-inflammatory that has long been prescribed for gout, a form of arthritis.
The most commonly prescribed treatment for a gout attack is an anti-inflammatory painkiller, although not everyone is able to take this kind of medicine.
It works by reducing the number of white blood cells which travel into the inflamed areas. This helps break the cycle of inflammation and reduces the swelling and pain of the gout attack.
Is This the First Hope for Patients Who Have Early COVID-19?
It’s all part of a growing belief that the worst effects of the coronavirus infection are caused not by the virus itself, but by a massive overreaction of the immune system, known as a cytokine storm.
In a cytokine storm, the immune system goes into overdrive — flooding the body with proteins (cytokines) that trigger widespread inflammation. That causes often fatal damage to organs.
Colchicine is just one of several anti-inflammatory medications currently in clinical trials for treating COVID-19.
The Canadian study showed the effectiveness of treatment using colchicine to prevent the phenomenon of the major inflammatory storm and reduce complications related to COVID-19.
What Have the Researchers Found?
The study was deployed across Canada, the U.S., Europe, South America, and South Africa. It randomized participants (double-blind) to colchicine 0.5 mg or a matching placebo twice daily for the first 3 days and then once daily for the last 27 days.
To keep those patients isolated at home, the study has an unusual “contactless” design: Patients will receive the medication by courier and have follow-up visits via video or phone.
Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif, who led the above study from Montreal Heart Institute, said “This is a major scientific discovery. Colchicine is the first effective oral medication to treat out-of-hospital patients.”
There was a significant effect among the 4,159 of 4,488 patients who had their diagnosis of COVID-19 confirmed by a positive PCR test:
- 25% fewer hospitalizations
- 50% less need for mechanical ventilation
- 44% fewer deaths
What are the side effects of colchicine?
Some physicians also warned about the potential for misuse of the findings and attendant risks.
While colchicine usually causes only mild side effects including diarrhea and nausea, it can in rare instances be toxic and even fatal if a person is prescribed too high of a dose.
It can also be contraindicated for someone with certain kidney problems and can interact with common medications like certain antibiotics or blood pressure medications.
If you are diagnosed early with COVID-19 and interested in this medication, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or health care provider for more information.
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This article contains medical information provided to help you better understand this medical condition or process and may contain information about medication often used as part of a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor. It is not intended to be used as either a diagnosis or recommendation for treatment of your medical situation. If you are unwell, concerned about your physical or mental state, or are experiencing symptoms you should speak with your doctor or primary health care provider. If you are in medical distress, please contact emergency services (such as 911).