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What to know about the COVID-19 treatment remdesivir

A group of medical vials.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first treatment for COVID-19, based on the results of three randomized, controlled clinical trials.

The drug is called remdesivir. It's not a cure for COVID-19. But it has been found to lead to a faster recovery for some hospitalized patients.

Who's it for?

The FDA first OK'd the drug for emergency use in adults and children hospitalized with severe COVID-19 in May. It later broadened that authorization to include all hospitalized patients, regardless of their disease severity. In October, it officially approved remdesivir as a treatment for hospitalized patients 12 and older who meet certain weight requirements.

The approval does not cover patients under 12 yet because those clinical trials are ongoing. But an updated emergency use authorization still allows some children to receive the drug in the meantime.

Who makes it?

Remdesivir is made by the U.S. drug company Gilead Sciences, Inc. It was first created to treat hepatitis C and a respiratory virus but didn't work well enough. Gilead then turned its sights on the coronavirus.

How does it work?

Remdesivir is given by IV infusion over a course of about 5 to 10 days. How long it's given depends on how ill the patient is. In a study conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, remdesivir shortened recovery time from about 15 days to about 10 days.

FDA's approval of the treatment means the potential benefits of the drug outweigh its potential risks, but it does have some side effects.

Possible side effects of remdesivir infusion include:

  • Liver damage.
  • Allergic reactions, including changes to blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Low blood oxygen levels.
  • Fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing.
  • Swelling.
  • Rash.
  • Nausea.
  • Sweating.
  • Shivering.

Certain medicines can reduce the effectiveness of remdesivir, so tell your provider about everything else you take before receiving remdesivir.

A treatment is not a cure

Scientists are still trying to find other treatments for COVID-19, and work to develop a vaccine for the virus continues.

In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to continue social distancing and to wear face masks in public to prevent spread of the disease.

Reviewed 10/23/2020

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