(NEW YORK POST) – Scientists are urgently investigating whether life-saving blood-pressure drugs may be a crucial factor behind many of those who die from the coronavirus.
A disproportionate number of patients hospitalized during the pandemic are known to have high blood pressure, and the main drugs for the condition — known as ACE inhibitors and ARBs — affect the same pathways that the bug takes to enter the lungs and heart.
America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is among those who have called for urgent research into whether the drugs could be acting as an accelerant for COVID-19.
“There are millions of Americans that take an ACE inhibitor or AR daily,” said Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness in Baltimore.
“This is one of the most important clinical questions,” he said, saying there are “dozens of scientific teams working feverishly to put this question to bed.”
Fauci also recently said that “we really need to get data and we need to get data fast.”
“What is possible is that people who are on ACE inhibitor … may be, without knowing it, increasing the expression of receptors for the virus, itself,” he told the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Fauci said a “red flag” was news that 75% of the pandemic deaths in Italy were people with hypertension — a developed country where he assumes they must have been treated for the condition.
“Why should someone who has hypertension that’s well controlled have a much greater chance of dying than somebody else with any other kind of underlying condition?” he asked.
An estimated 100 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure, with about four-fifths needing prescription drugs to control it. The drugs include Vasotec, Valsartan, Irbesartan, as well as their generic versions.
Researchers generally agree that it is too risky for people with severe hypertension or heart failure to stop taking the drugs. Many are divided, however, when it comes to helping those with milder cases.
Health Watch USA recommends that doctors temporarily avoid putting new patients on the drugs and warn those currently on them to take extreme precautions to avoid virus exposure.
However, Dr. Scott David Solomon, director of noninvasive cardiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is one of many who suggest it is too early to reach potentially dangerous decisions.
“Not only is there no compelling evidence that we should be discontinuing those medications, but there’s reason to think that doing so might actually cause harm,” Solomon said.
Novartis International AG and Sanofi SA are among the major drugmakers selling ACE inhibitors and ARBs.
Sanofi spokesman Nicolas Kressmann said patients should consult their doctors on whether to continue taking the drugs but that the company has found insufficient evidence that they worsen COVID-19 through its own assessment of available scientific data.
Novartis has not issued any guidance to clinicians or patients and defers to scientists studying the issue, said spokesman Eric Althoff.