Virologist: Trump’s COVID treatments make his actual condition ‘very unclear’

Oct 5, 2020, 1:08 PM | Updated: Oct 6, 2020, 7:02 am
Trump COVID...
President Trump continues to receive treatment for COVID-19. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As President Trump continues to receive treatment for COVID-19, the public has at least some sense of how things are progressing. But even so, it’s still proven difficult to fully assess the severity of his illness, especially given the medications he’s been taking.

Virologist: Trump ‘faces increased risk’ in wake of COVID diagnosis

According to the president’s physician, Trump is being treated with three different drugs: remdesivir, dexamethasone, and an experimental antiviral cocktail.

Remdesivir is commonly used for patients suffering through severe cases of COVID-19, having not been widely tested in people who are early on in the course of the disease. But according to Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen, “people have hypothesized that treatment early with remdesivir or other antiviral drugs may actually be more effective than treating patients who are already in the hospital because it’s attacking the viral infection while it’s still really getting going.”

Beyond that, it’s the use of dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory steroid, that concerns Dr. Rasmussen the most.

“[It] is a little concerning because dexamethasone doesn’t attack the virus,” she told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “It isn’t an immuno-suppressant — it’s an anti-inflammatory steroid, and you actually wouldn’t want to necessarily treat a patient early on with dexamethasone because it’s going to blunt the patient’s immune responses that may be useful in controlling the infection.”

That treatment has also only been tested on patients in the most severe cases of the virus, adding another layer of uncertainty to the president’s current condition.

“What’s not clear to me is whether they are just taking a very proactive approach in treating the president,” Rasmussen noted. “… It’s very unclear to me how sick President Trump actually is, and also what the rationale was for using all of these different drugs in this way.”

Trump tweeted Monday that he will be discharged from Walter Reed Medical Center in the afternoon, reporting that he is “feeling really good.” Despite that, though, Dr. Rasmussen points out that dexamethasone could potentially mask the president’s symptoms, while not actually improving his overall condition.

“One side effect of taking powerful corticosteroids like that is that patients often feel better, despite the fact that the underlying cause of their illness is not any better at all,” she described. “That, to me, is one of the things that’s really unclear: How much of this treatment is being dictated by President Trump himself or those around him, and how much of it is being dictated by his actual medical condition and the physicians caring for him?”

The president’s physician, Navy Cdr. Sean Conley, said Monday that Trump will be able to resume working normally once “there is no evidence of live virus still present,” while also cautioning that the aggressive early treatment he’s received is largely “uncharted territory.” In the meantime, Conley says he won’t be fully out of the woods for at least another week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Virologist: Trump’s COVID treatments make his actual condition ‘very unclear’