Medical community works toward COVID-19 cure, treatment

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) on Friday, Nov. 6 reported a record 6,141 additional COVID-19 cases and 62 newly-reported deaths related to the virus.

The record single-day rise in cases comes as the medical community continues to work toward a cure for the virus. There are a number of medications, as well as non-medication techniques, that doctors and nurses at Aurora are turning to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

With no vaccine or cure yet, current treatments for hospitalization patients focus on symptom management and their body's response to the virus so that they are ultimately able to survive.

"We’ve definitely seen a decrease in the mortality rates among patients who do have COVID and are being hospitalized, but definitely are not the same level of the flu," said Dr. Hammad Haider-Shah, chief medical officer of the Aurora West Allis Medical Center. "Definitely more people are dying of COVID still than people would die of the flu if they came into the hospital."

COVID-19 ICU unit at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center (Credit: Advocate Aurora Health)

Many treatments focus on getting oxygen to patients' lungs, such as proning -- which is laying a patient on their stomach instead of their back. Ventilators can also be used, but only as a last resort.

"By keeping moving you back and forth, we’re able to get more air into more parts of your body and cause less damage from COVID," Haider-Shah said.

Remdesivir is an antiviral drug used to reduce symptoms, while dexamethasone is a steroid that helps keep the body from overreacting to the infection.

Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center

Additionally, monoclonal antibodies -- which President Donald Trump received during his diagnosis -- is an experimental treatment involving chemically-formed antibodies. 

"Tthe labs have created the antibody, much as the same antibody we are finding in plasma, but finding a way to make it in a laboratory and making large amounts of the antibody as well," said Haider-Shah.

Aurora is expecting to use monoclonal antibodies starting next week. The different treatments have proven effective in reducing the mortality rate, though doctors say they actually don't mean patients require less care while hospitalized. Oftentimes, it's the opposite.

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Because treatments are so new, patients receiving them require even more monitoring. Hospitals are nearing capacity across Wisconsin; for example, ICU bed capacity is currently 91% full.

"We really need to start slowing down the number of infections to be able to keep up with being able to take care of every patient that walks in our door," Haider-Shah said. 

That's why state officials continue to stress preventative measures -- like staying home and wearing a mask when around others.

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