Studies Suggest Chest X-rays May Fight COVID-19

With COVID-19 being a global threat, researchers are looking at many methods to help treat the disease. Now, they are suggesting low doses of radiation may fight the inflammation associated with the virus.

In the first half of the 1900s, doctors used low doses of radiation — in the form of X-rays — to ease the inflammation of pneumonia. Scientists think that, by doing the same thing, they could stem the inflammation before it leads to pneumonia and other respiratory problems that are killing people with COVID-19. It’s a very low dose of radiation. Some hospitals are trying it on people in the U.S., Italy, Spain and other countries, eager to learn more.

Unlike medications that attack the virus, the X-rays in the lung can slow the body’s immune system reaction. It seems counter-intuitive to lower someone’s immune system when they are ill. But the body’s fight against the virus can be more damaging than the virus itself. Combining drugs that attack the virus and X-rays that lower inflammation and ease breathing problems may help people recover.

Several trials are using as little as one chest X-ray to attempt to treat the virus. That is tiny amounts of radiation, not enough to cause any adverse side effects like you might see with other uses of radiation, like in cancer patients.  

We believe adding a single treatment of low-dose X-rays to the lungs might reduce the amount of inflammation in the lungs from a COVID-19 infection, which could help a patient to breathe without use of a ventilator,” said Dr. Arnab Chakravarti chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at The Ohio State Univ. 

He is using it on patients who have pneumonia but aren’t on ventilators. Dr. Chakravarti believes it could provide “patients with critical symptom relief and giving them a better opportunity to recover from these sometimes life-threatening infections.”

This all may sound crazy, but one small study has already produced amazing results. They worked with five people who were, on average, 90 years old. The patients were all on oxygen and all becoming sicker. Within 24 hours, four of the people were already breathing more easily, more alert and talkative. A blood test and a second image of the lungs showed that the treatment was working and hadn’t negatively impacted them. As the mortality rate of COVID-19 is much higher for older people, the researchers were thrilled.

This could be amazing. We have discussed the importance of using readily available drugs, but there is an X-ray machine in almost every urgent care and medical facility in America. If just one chest X-ray can help people’s treatment, this will be a huge step forward. They are making moves to make the study national. While many of us are afraid of radiation’s impact on the body, most people feel comfortable with a single chest X-ray. We eagerly await the findings of more studies!

Banner Image: O’Dea, Wikimedia
June 18, 2020
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