Is inhaled steroid budesonide really ‘silver bullet’ for COVID-19?

West Texas doctor, Richard Bartlett, claims he's found the best treatment for the new coronavirus

Budesonide has been touted as a "silver bullet" for treating COVID-19 by one West Texas doctor, but many other doctors say the drug needs to be studied before it's widely used. (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – A West Texas doctor is getting a lot of attention for his claims that the inhaled steroid budesonide is the “silver bullet” for COVID-19.

Dr. Richard Bartlett, a general physician who practices at various clinics in the Midland-Odessa area says he’s had 100% success rate treating dozens of patients with the drug.

Clips from his media interviews have gone viral on social media and some have speculated that other doctors are overlooking a cure.

“It’s like this medicine was made for this pandemic,” Bartlett told News West 9.

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KSAT asked Dr. Ruth Berggren, an infectious disease specialist at the UT Health San Antonio’s Long School of Medicine about claims that budesonide is the key to curing coronavirus cases.

“So this is a premature declaration of a cure,” Berggren said.

She said budesonide is a known medicine with important indications but says it should be studied before it’s widely used.

“Let me tell you something that should cause everyone to press the pause button on this budesonide idea,” Berggren said. “There’s a signal that suggests that if you give steroids, immunosuppressive medications, early in the course of the disease when you need your immune system to be fighting off the virus, you could possibly make things worse.”

Berggren said there was a large randomized trial of another steroid called dexamethasone in the United Kingdom which found that treating patients who had oxygen deficits orally or intravenously with the drug did reduce mortality, but the drug increased the death rate in patients who did not have oxygen deficits.

She said we won’t know if the same holds true for budesonide until it’s studied properly.

“I absolutely think that inhaled steroids need to be studied, and they need to be studied in a prospective randomized blinded fashion so that we can all learn whether they help and then how to use them safely and wisely,” Berggen said.

She warned against off-label use or hoarding of the drug.

“There’s even a possibility that if you use these steroids too early or too much of them, that you could harm yourself and worsen your chances of surviving COVID-19,” Berggren said.

Berggren isn’t the only doctor expressing concern over Bartlett’s claims.

Dr. Rohith Saravanan, the Chief Medical Officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center, told CBS 7, “As of right now, there is no widespread use of budesonide, and that’s not what the NIH recommends.”

“I just want to caution everybody to be careful,” Dr. Larry Wilson, CMO at Midland Memorial Hospital, told CBS 7. “If it’s being described as a silver bullet, if you’re hearing about things that are just so perfect that it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

Watch Dr. Berggren’s interview with KSAT from July 10 below:

Dr. Ruth Berggren, an infectious disease specialist, explains whether COVID-19 has peaked in San Antonio.

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About the Author:

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.