ODESSA, Texas — One West Texas doctor believes he’s found a “silver bullet” for COVID-19.

Richard Bartlett’s been an emergency room doctor here in the Basin for 28 years. He works across the region at various hospitals and clinics.

The past three months he has been treating high-risk COVID-19 patients, like the elderly, those with heart disease and cancer, with an inhaled steroid called Budesonide.

A drug commonly used to treat asthma.

“It’s an inhaled steroid that doesn’t have the side effects of total body steroids but it has the benefits," Bartlett said.

Dr. Bartlett says COVID-19 starts in the respiratory system but then triggers a severe inflammatory process, called Cytokine Storms, that eventually leads to multi-organ failure and death.

But the inhaled steroid helps to prevent that inflammation.

“It’s like putting out a fire at the base of the fire," Bartlett said. "I’m having patients recover so quick.”

One West Texas doctor believes he’s found a “silver bullet” for COVID-19. Richard Bartlett’s been an emergency room doctor here in the Basin for 28 years. The past three months he’s been treating high-risk COVID-19 patients, like the elderly and those with heart disease and cancer, with aN inhaled steroid called Budesonide. A drug commonly used to treat asthma. I caught up with the doctor this afternoon to find out more about the treatment.

Posted by Sammi Steele on Thursday, May 21, 2020

Bartlett says patients with COVID-19 get prescribed Budesonide and then use a nebulizer and breath in the steroid twice a day.

His patients tell him within one treatment they were feeling better.

“For five days she was on her back, couldn’t get out of bed then after her first treatment she felt better," Bartlett said. "She then returned to her job that Monday.”

So far, Bartlett’s seen a 100 percent success rate in the 12 patients he has seen.

Even in his high-risk patients.

“One patient I had, had a 50-year history of smoking and multiple bypass surgeries," Bartlett said. "She felt better immediately, total recover."

Bartlett says the medicine has been out for 25 years. 

It is FDA approved but not for treating COVID-19. 

"I have never seen it work so good for any other process like this, it’s like this medicine was made for this pandemic.”

Bartlett hopes other doctors begin to use this process to help their COVID-19 patients in order to prevent them from having to go to the ICU or be put on a ventilator.

With Bartlett seeing so much success, European studies will begin on the protocol Bartlett's being doing next month.

NewsWest 9 will update you on what those studies find.

Midland Memorial Hospital is responding to Bartlett's claims. In a statement sent to NewsWest 9 the Lawrence Wilson, the vice president of medical affairs, said: 

There is no strong information about inhaled steroids and COVID-19. There's debate on both sides as to whether they are harmful or helpful. I would most definitely NOT call inhaled steroids a “silver bullet”.

From a recent article on the topic:

“At present, there is no evidence as to whether pre-morbid use or continued administration of ICS (inhaled corticosteroids) is a factor for adverse or beneficial outcomes in acute respiratory infections due to coronavirus."

Some arguments against its use include: delayed viral clearance has been seen with systemic steroids, patients with COPD who are on an inhaled corticosteroid have higher incidence of pneumonia

Some arguments for it: the prevalence of COPD patients, many of whom use ICS, in the cohort of patients with COVID is lower than in the general public which is interesting but proves nothing, and there is some in vitro data that may show some inhibitory effects on the virus. 

There is a clinical trial in France looking at adding Symbicort (another ICS like Budesonide) to standard of care. It is not completed and has no preliminary results for or against.

There is no evidence to suggest inhaled steroids inactivate, kill or clear the virus. Inhaled, oral and IV steroids are sometimes used for patients in ARDS but have no direct antiviral activity, therefore we would not recommend taking budesonide as a treatment or prophylaxis for COVID-19. 

Midland Health does not advocate the use of an ICS as preventative nor as a universally used treatment for COVID-19 infections.

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