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Some cough syrups may make coronavirus worse: The good news that followed the bad news

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Some cough syrups may make coronavirus worse: The good news that followed the bad news
Cough syrup pouring onto a spoon.

This headline caught my eye this morning: “Why you should avoid some cough syrups if you think you’ve got the coronavirus.”

If you’ve ever had trouble with a cough, you’re probably familiar with Robitussin, Delsym, Theraflu, Triaminic, Benylyn, DayQuil, and NyQuil. If you’ve developed a cough after being infected with coronavirus, it’s natural that you would use one of these.

New research suggests, however, that this may not be a good idea.

These cough suppressants contain dextromethorphan, which stifles signals in the brain that set off the reflex to cough. In tests conducted at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, researchers introduced dextromethorphan into the cells of African green monkeys growing in petri dishes. The subsequent addition of SARS-Co-V-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, resulted in more prolific viral growth.

These findings do not prove that cough medicines containing dextromethorphan will worsen the condition of people infected with coronavirus, or that they will make bad outcomes more likely. But the researchers were concerned enough to advise cough sufferers who might be infected with the virus to avoid these medications and called for more research on the issue.

Halfway down the article, however, we find this sentence: “But the group’s discoveries raised hopes as well.”

After mapping the coronavirus’s genome, they identified 322 distinct steps needed to ensure the coronavirus can enter a cell, hijack its machinery, and make copies of itself. Then they looked for compounds that would intervene in this process.

The group identified sixty-nine existing drugs, experimental drugs, or compounds on the way to becoming drugs. Some of the compounds the team identified are “many times more potent” than remdesivir, a drug now being used as a COVID-19 treatment.

This is fantastic news. If existing drugs could be used alone or in combination with others to prevent the virus from infecting humans or to minimize its symptoms, this would greatly shorten the pathway to effective medical treatment for the disease. While we wait for vaccines to be tested in months-long clinical trials, we could be using existing therapies to counter the pandemic.

The good news that followed the bad news

Here’s my point: some of the best medical news I’ve seen on the pandemic was discussed only after the cough syrup story was reported. This is not unusual, of course. The old maxim we learned in my media major in college was, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Bad news usually generates more attention than good news.

It is human nature to fixate on danger. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs notes that we must meet our basic needs—food, water, warmth, rest, and security and safety—before we will consider psychological needs such as relationships and self-esteem or seek to fulfill our full potential.

This is why Jesus so often met physical needs in order to meet spiritual needs. He began his public ministry by healing “all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics” (Matthew 4:24).

He knew that when we help people with their temporal needs, we earn the right to help them with their eternal needs. My friend, Dr. Randel Everett, taught me this maxim: “I have no right to preach the gospel to a hungry person.”

Name someone you know who to your knowledge does not have a saving relationship with Jesus. Now ask the Lord how you can serve this person in a practical way, then follow his leading as you meet their felt needs with God’s love and your compassion.

This is the right thing to do, whatever the person’s response to the gospel (cf. Proverbs 19:17; Matthew 25:35–40). But it is often an effective way to earn the right to share Christ with them.

And, according to Jesus, what you do for those in need, you do for him (Matthew 25:40).

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