COVID-19 Update: Cortisol Levels, Lawsuit Claims 'Fabricated' Tests

Victoria Giardina

June 22, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Here are the coronavirus stories Medscape's editors around the globe think you need to know about today:

Cortisol Levels on Admission Can Help Predict Severity

UK researchers have discovered a link between high levels of the steroid hormone cortisol in hospitalized COVID-19 patients and an increased risk of death. The study of 535 London-based patients was published online in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology

The cortisol levels in the COVID-19 patients ranged up to 3241 nmol/L, which is "a marked cortisol stress response, perhaps higher than is observed in patients undergoing major surgery," the research team reported.

The researchers note that their results indicate it would be hazardous for anyone to self-medicate with steroids at an early stage of COVID-19 because that would further increase cortisol levels and could suppress the immune system.

Lawsuit Claims 'Fabricated' Tests 

A team of nurses at Landmark Hospital of Athens in Georgia has filed a lawsuit accusing their CEO of what they deemed a "COVID-19 cover-up" to attempt to reduce positive test results to downplay the actual spread of the virus, Georgia Health News reports

The nurses allege that the hospital administrator ordered additional retesting for five patients who had shown symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19, intentionally collecting samples without adhering to the proper protocols in order to increase the likelihood of a negative result. 

"Landmark fabricated negative results so as to continue to be able to discharge patients to make space for new admissions and avoid the negative publicity and oversight that would result if the positive COVID-19 results were disclosed," the lawsuit alleges. 

Landmark's CEO said in a statement that she would "vigorously investigate allegations and defend our hospital and its staff against misleading and false claims," and that her administration is "fully cooperating with all government inquiries about our operations, and look forward to promptly and fully resolving this matter."

Problems Grow With Abbott's Fast Test

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received 106 adverse event reports about Abbott Laboratories' rapid, point-of-care COVID-19 test, an increase from 15 in mid-May, Kaiser Health News reports

The adverse event reports add to a debate among medical professionals about the lower sensitivity threshold — 80% — for point-of-care tests like the Abbott rapid test. Given the risks that an infected person unwittingly spreads COVID-19 after receiving a negative result, is the threshold sufficient? Opinion is mixed.

US Halts Trial of Hydroxychloroquine

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on Saturday that it has halted its clinical trial evaluating the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The study found no benefit to patients, but also no harm, NIH said in its statement

Inhaled Remdesivir Study to Begin 

Gilead Sciences is preparing to start a phase 1 trial of an inhaled formulation of its antiviral drug remdesivir, the company's CEO announced in an open letter. Remdesivir is the only drug currently authorized by the FDA for the treatment of COVID-19 in the US, and has been tested in clinical trials of hospitalized patients receiving the drug intravenously.

The inhaled form of remdesivir is given through a nebulizer, "which could potentially allow for easier administration outside the hospital, at earlier stages of disease," the CEO Daniel O'Day writes.

In Memoriam

As frontline healthcare workers care for patients with COVID-19, they commit themselves to difficult, draining work and also put themselves at risk for infection. More than 1500 throughout the world have died. 

Medscape has published a memorial list to commemorate them. We will continue updating this list as, sadly, needed. Please help us ensure this list is complete by submitting names with an age, profession or specialty, and location through this form

If you would like to share any other experiences, stories, or concerns related to the pandemic, please join the conversation here.

Victoria Giardina is Medscape's editorial intern. She has previously written for "The Dr. Oz Show" and is currently a National Lifestyle Writer for Her Campus. She can be reached at vgiardina@webmd.net or on Twitter @VickyRGiardina.

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