“The patient in room 1 should be a quick one, its an addon, they just need a prescription for ivermectin”
I’m a bit puzzled by this sentence from my assistant doing his best to help me through a very busy day in the clinic that I’m already behind in. I walk into the room, a script pad stuffed into my hand as I enter the room, to meet a very nice couple. The wife sits patiently with hands crossed on the exam table.
“So, you’re here for Ivermectin?”, I ask.
Why yes, a trip to Texas is planned.. COVID is in the air, the internet, and some important people who have ‘inside knowledge’ have raised doubts about the vaccine. Some other people who quite possibly could be the same people, have also suggested prophylactic ivermectin is the better bet to prevent these good people from catching COVID.
Ivermectin is a drug known to work against parasites. The virus angle relates to in vitro data that suggests Ivermectin inhibits the host importin alpha/beta-1 nuclear transport proteins, which are part of a key intracellular transport process that viruses use to enhance infection by suppressing the host’s antiviral response. In addition, ivermectin may interfere with the attachment of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike protein to the human cell membrane. Ivermectin demonstrates a broad spectrum of activity in-vitro against a variety of viruses like dengue, Zika, HIV, and yellow fever. Unfortunately, despite this in vitro activity, no clinical trials have reported a clinical benefit for ivermectin in patients with these viruses.
Ivermectin does inhibit Sars-Cov2 viral replication in cell cultures. However, pharmacokinetic studies suggest that achieving the plasma concentrations necessary for the antiviral efficacy detected in vitro would require administration of doses up to 100-fold higher than those approved for use in humans. Even though ivermectin appears to accumulate in the lung tissue, predicted systemic plasma and lung tissue concentrations are much lower than 2 µM, the half-maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) against SARS-CoV-2 in vitro. Subcutaneous administration of ivermectin 400 µg/kg had no effect on SARS-CoV-2 viral loads in hamsters, though there was a reduction in olfactory deficit and a reduction in the interleukin (IL-6:IL-10) ratio in lung tissues.
Since the pandemic began, there have been a number of small randomized controlled trials of ivermectin in mild COVID patients that show more rapid viral clearance, but not too much else. The prophylaxis data is considerably more sparse, and is of the retrospective variety. Basically take a number of countries that use Ivermectin variably and compare the incidence of COVID in those countries.
A recent email that arrived in my in-box a few weeks ago from an academic hailed the latest “paradigm shift” in cardiology as it relates to the management of stable angina. (Stable angina refers to chronic,non-accelerating chest pain with a moderate level of exertion). The points made in the email were as follows (the order of the points made are preserved):
The financial burden of stress testing was significant (11 billion dollars per annum in the USA!)
For stable CAD, medical treatment is critical. We now have better medical treatments than all prior trials including ischemia. these include PCKS9 Inhibitor, SGLT2-i, GLP1 agonists Vascepa and others
CTA coronaries is by far the most important single test for evaluation of these patients
” the paradigm of ischemia testing may have come to an end”
For stable angina (not ACS!) in most cases, the decision on revascularization should be based only on symptoms alleviation (as no survival benefit).
The general public should find it interesting, and not a random coincidence that the first point immediately gets to the financial burden of stress testing in a communication that is supposed to assess the level of evidence for the management of coronary artery disease. Imagine a cardiologist enters your exam room to talk about the chest pain you get every time you run up a flight of steps, and starts off the conversation with how much the societal cost of stress tests are. The cost of care is certainly a relevant concern, especially if it’s to be borne directly by the patient, but it would seem that the decision of whether a therapy is effective or not should be divorced from how much some bean counter decides to price the therapy to generate a certain return on investment. As such, the discussion that follows will omit any consideration of cost when evaluating the new ‘paradigm shift’ in management of coronary disease that is apparently upon us.
This particular debate boils down to the relevance of diagnostic testing for coronary artery disease. The traditional approach to testing is a functional test that utilizes the uptake of radioactive isotope injected into a patient during stress and rest conditions to identify mismatches in blood flow in the two states to identify myocardial ischemia. The amount of ischemia can be quantified as percent of total myocardium, and has been well correlated with prognosis. Having lots of ischemia typically means a much shorter lifeline than having little or no ischemia. The accepted paradigm in Cardiology has been to use traditional stress testing to triage patients to ‘conservative’ medical therapy or an invasive approach to bypass or open arteries via stents or coronary bypass surgery.
The most recent fiction dressed up as science about COVID comes to us courtesy of a viral Washington Post article. “How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have spread coronavirus across the Upper Midwest” screams the headline. The charge made is that “within weeks” of the gathering that drew nearly half a million visitors the Dakota’s and adjacent states are experiencing a surge of COVID cases.
The Sturgis Rally happens to be a popular motorcycle rally held in Sturgis, South Dakota every August that created much consternation this year because it wasn’t cancelled even as the country was in the throes of a pandemic. While some of the week long event is held outdoors, attendees filled bars and tattoo parlors,(and that too without masks!), much to the shock and chagrin of the virtuous members of society successfully able to navigate life via zoom, amazon prime, and ubereats.
This particular Washington Post article’s sole source of data comes from a non-profit tech organization called The Center For New Data that attempted to use cellphone data to attempt to track spread of the virus from the Sturgis rally. Unfortunately, tracking viral spread using cellphone mobility data is about as hard as it seems. The post article references only 11,000 people that were able to be tracked out of a total of almost 500,000 visitors, and isn’t able to assess mask wearing, or attempts at social distancing. How many bars are there to stuff into in Sturgis anyway?? And so it isn’t surprising that even in an article designed to please a certain politic, this particular sentence appears:
“But precisely how that outbreak unfolded remains shrouded in uncertainty.”
The great pandemic is wreaking havoc, we are told, because the nation is not testing enough. The consensus from a diverse group that includes public health experts, economists, and silicon valley investors is that more testing will allow the country to restart the economy and do it safely.
The White House has been a mini laboratory for this testing strategy. Everyone who comes into contact with the President and Vice President is tested daily. This is supposedly what allows everyone to sit in meetings together and generally carry out the essential business of the country. But over this Mother’s Day weekend members of the White House spent their time scrambling to track down contacts of Katie Miller, the press secretary of the Vice president who tested positive. And contacts were left unclear about what exactly to do. One official started self-quarantining, while another did not.
If the White House has trouble with a mass testing, and contact tracing strategy, one wonders how this may work nationwide with thousands of new cases per day. While it would be tempting to blame administrative incompetence for the difficulties in the most important household in the land, the real difficulties lies with inherent limitations to tests that need to be understood before getting on the testing bandwagon.
A number of politically tinged narratives have
divided physicians during the pandemic. It would be unfortunate if politics
obscured the major problem brought into stark relief by the pandemic: a system
that marginalizes physicians and strips them of agency.
In practices big and small, hospital-employed
or private practice, nursing homes or hospitals, there are serious issues
raising their heads for doctors and their patients.
No masks for you
When I walked into my office Thursday, March 12th, I assembled the office staff for the first time to talk about COVID. The prior weekend had been awash with scenes of mayhem in Italy, and I had come away with the dawning realization that my wishful thinking on the virus from Wuhan skipping us was dead wrong. The US focus had been on travel from China and other Far East hotspots. There was no such limitation on travel from Europe. The virus had clearly seeded Italy and possibly other parts of Europe heavily, and now the US was faced with the very real possibility that there was significant community spread that had occurred from travelers from Europe and Italy over the last month. I had assumed that seeing no cases in our hospitals and ICUs by early March meant the virus had been contained in China. That was clearly not the case.
Our testing apparatus had also largely been limited in the US to symptomatic patients who had been to high-risk countries. If Europe was seeded, this meant we had not been screening nearly enough people. When I heard the first few cases pop up in my county, it was clear the jig was up. It was pandemic panic mode time. There was a chance that there were thousands of cases in the community we didn’t know about and that we were weeks away from the die-off happening in hospitals in China and Italy. So what I told the staff the morning of March 12th was that we needed to start acting now as if there was significant spread of COVID in the community. This meant canceling clinic visits for all but urgent patients, wearing masks, trying to buy masks, attention to hand hygiene, cleaning rooms between patients, screening everyone for flu-like symptoms before coming to the office, and moving to a skeleton staff in the office. I left the office that day wearing a mask as I headed to the ER.
Our strategy with nursing homes in the midst
of the current pandemic is bad. Nursing
homes and other long term care facilities house some of our sickest patients in
and it is apparent we have no cogent strategy to protect them.
I attempted to reassure an anxious nursing home resident a few weeks ago. I told him that it appeared for now that the community level transmission in Philadelphia was low, and that I was optimistic we could keep residents safe with simple maneuvers like better hand hygiene, restricting visitors, as well as stricter policies with regards to keeping caregivers with symptoms home. I was worried too, but optimistic.
I figured the larger medical community would be on the same page if someone did get COVID. It made sense to me to be aggressive about testing staff and residents and quickly getting COVID-positive patients out of the nursing home. So when I heard of the first patient that was positive in the nursing home, my heart sank, but it fell even further when I found out the COVID-positive patient was sent back from the hospital because they weren’t “sick enough” to be admitted.
COVID is here. A little strand of RNA that
used to live in bats has a new host. And
that strand is clearly not the flu. New
York is overrun, with more than half of the nation’s new cases per day, and
refrigerated 18-wheelers parked outside hospitals serve as makeshift
morgues. Detroit, New Orleans, Miami,
and Philadelphia await an inevitable surge of their own with bated breath. America’s health care workers are scrambling
to hold the line against a deluge of sick patients arriving hourly at a rate
that’s hard to fathom.
I pause here to attest to the heroic response
of the medical community and the countless more working to support them. At the
time of this writing, despite 368,000 confirmed cases in the United States,
11,000 deaths have been reported. A
horrid number, but still a far cry from Italy with 130,000 cases, and 16,523
deaths, and Spain with 14,000 deaths amidst 140,000 cases. Italy and Spain may be a few weeks ahead of
the United States, but at the moment, Italy and Spain have case fatality rates
(12.5%, 10%) that are multiples of the United States (2.5%). If this rate does
stand, it will be a testament to the tenacity of medical workers toiling under
With the scale of the tragedy now obvious, the
take from some very smart people is that the people who should have been paying
attention were asleep at the wheel. The
easy target is the bombastic New York real estate developer and current
President of the United States who repeatedly assured raucous campaign crowds
and the nation that the virus was under control before it wasn’t.
The charge is made that the President ignored
warnings and painted a rosy picture of an unfolding crisis in a short-sighted
attempt to preserve the economy and a beloved stock market. He may be guilty of the latter charge, but
the real question relates to ignored warnings.
Where were the warnings? Who was sounding the alarm that was ultimately
Episode 4 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed Thursday April 9. You can see it below and it’s also preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels. Every Thursday at 1pm PT-4pm ET, 4-6 semi-regular guests drawn from THCB authors and other assorted old friends of mine will shoot the shit about health care business, politics, practice, and tech. It tries to be fun but serious and informative!
This week, joining me were Jane Sarasohn Kahn (@healthythinker), Anish Koka (@anish_koka), Saurabh Jha (@roguerad), Elizabeth Clayborne (@DrElizPC), and Ian Morrison (@seccurve). A fun and very informative discussion about where the COVID-19 crisis is right now and what it’s going to mean both now and in the near future — Matthew Holt
As the globe faces a novel, highly transmissible,
lethal virus, I am most struck by a medicine cabinet that is embarrassingly
empty for doctors in this battle. This
means much of the debate centers on mitigation of spread of the virus. Tempers flare over discussions on travel
bans, social distancing, and self quarantines, yet the inescapable fact remains
that the medical community can do little more than support the varying
fractions of patients who progress from mild to severe and life threatening
disease. This isn’t meant to minimize the
massive efforts brought to bear to keep patients alive by health care workers
but those massive efforts to support failing organs in the severely ill are in
large part because we lack any effective therapy to combat the virus. It is akin to taking care of patients with
bacterial infections in an era before antibiotics, or HIV/AIDS in an era before
It should be a familiar feeling for at least
one of the leading physicians charged with managing the current crisis – Dr.
Anthony Fauci. Dr. Fauci started as an
immunologist at the NIH in the 1960s and quickly made breakthroughs in
previously fatal diseases marked by an overactive immune response. Strange reports of a new disease that was
sweeping through the gay community in the early 1980’s caused him to shift
focus to join the great battle against the AIDS epidemic.
Even this cardiologist knows why. The not so subtle evidence lies in the cloudy
lens in front of his pupils. He is
afflicted with cataracts that obstruct his vision to the point he can’t really
do his job refurbishing antique furniture safely. His other problem is that he hates doctors.
He hasn’t had reason to see one for more than a decade. He’s 68, takes no medications, smokes a pack
of cigarettes a day, and is a master of one word answers. He’s in my office because
he needs a medical evaluation prior to his cataract procedure. Someone needs to
attest to medical safety. I’m it.
He just wants to get out of here.
His annoyance of being in the office is
justified. Cataract surgery is very low
risk. Unless he’s having an acute
medical problem, there is little to do.
The problem is that in an age of high volume, super specialized care,
the eye doctor can’t attest to this, and the anesthesiologists have little
interest in finding out the morning of his procedure that Mr. Smith has been
having more frequent episodes of chest pain over the last two weeks. Perhaps the chest pain is just acid reflux,
or maybe it’s because of a pulmonary embolism related to the tobacco induced
lung malignancy no one knows about. It’s possible, and highly likely, Mr. Smith
will survive his cataract surgery even if
he has a pulmonary embolism.
Cataract surgery really is pretty low risk.
But the doctor’s ethos has never been to
‘clear a patient for a cataract’, it is to commit to the health of the
patient. Mr. Smith deserves the
opportunity to receive good medical care that isn’t made threadbare just
because of the cataract surgery on the horizon.