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Hunches are not hope, COVID-19 studies aren’t medical advice

Nicotine patches, famotidine being studied

DETROIT – There are new reports of therapies used to treat COVID-19 every day -- often met with hopeful fanfare.

Two new studies are looking at nicotine patches and famotidine -- which is sold over the counter as Pepcid, a common antacid medication, but Dr. Frank McGeorge is urging residents not to even consider trying either at home.

Update: April 29, 2020 -- Michigan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases up to 40,399; Death toll now at 3,670

The study looking at ulcer medication famotidine is based purely on an unpublished observation that some patients with COVID-19 on Pepcid appeared to do better when compared to patients who were on a different ulcer medication.

This led researchers in New York to look deeper into how Pepcid might be effective. They said they found the structure of famotidine is similar to one of the viruses enzymes and it might be able to block the virus from replicating.

Based on those two loose pieces of information, they are following a hunch and testing very high doses of famotidine in patients with coronavirus. This is science in action, but it is not anywhere near proof enough that people should even consider taking Pepcid.

The other study generating premature buzz is on nicotine patches. The theory here started with another observation that in at least two studies -- one published, and one as yet unpublished -- smokers appeared to have a lower risk of developing severe disease. However, it should be clearly pointed out that other studies have shown just the opposite.

Nonetheless, the researchers developed a hunch that it was the nicotine that might be providing some protection based on a change in certain receptors in the respiratory tract, leading them to study nicotine patches.

The researchers in the nicotine patch study have been especially careful to emphasize that no one should interpret their study, or their prior data on smoking as a suggestion that smoking is beneficial. They are simply following another hunch.

Although the start of these two studies generated hope and interest among the public, the bottom line is that they are nowhere near medical advice.

Anyone who believes they might have coronavirus should follow the CDC guidelines. Michigan.gov has a list of resources available to those concerned about COVID-19.

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