FEB 26, 2020 5:32 PM PST

NIAID Tests Remdesivir as a Treatment for COVID-19

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

There have now been 81,409 cases of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China. The vast majority of those cases, over 78,000, have occurred in mainland China. More than 30,000 people have recovered from the illness caused by the virus, known as COVID-19. There have been 2,772 deaths due to the virus. You can track the statistics on SARS-CoV-2 at this dashboard created by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)-also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19-isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab. / Credit: NIAID-RML

Yesterday, there were more new cases of the virus outside of China than there were inside of China, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported; on Tuesday, the number of new cases in China was 411, and in other countries, there were 427 new cases. The WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that a pandemic should not be declared yet because the virus can still be contained, but that countries must prepare for one.

There was an additional case of COVID-19 in the United States, reported earlier today by the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, which involves close contact with a traveler or travel. The other 42 Americans with the infection were evacuated from one of two places where the virus was spreading - the Diamond Princess cruise ship or Wuhan, China. Everyone that was evacuated had to undergo a fourteen-day quarantine when they returned to the US.

More concerning is the update Wednesday night from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A case of coronavirus has been confirmed in the United States in a person with no known links to travel or exposure to an infected person. According to their statement: "At this time, the patient’s exposure is unknown.  It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States. Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It’s also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected." Luckily, clinicians were on the lookout and picked it up when the patient came in for treatment.

At the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is sponsoring a trial of a broad-spectrum antiviral drug called remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19. It has already shown success when tested with other coronaviruses MERS and SARS.

“We urgently need a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19. Although remdesivir has been administered to some patients with COVID-19, we do not have solid data to indicate it can improve clinical outcomes,” said NIAID Director and U.S. Coronavirus Task Force member Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “A randomized, placebo-controlled trial is the gold standard for determining if an experimental treatment can benefit patients.”

One of the trial volunteers was evacuated from the Diamond Princess and has been repatriated after undergoing a quarantine. Trial participants must have a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection that had a serious impact on the lungs.

"We will know reasonably soon whether it works - and if it does, we will then have an effective therapy to distribute," Fauci said.

The price of disposable masks is reportedly surging, though their use is not recommended for people in general, only for those that are sick or who are caring for those that are sick. Preventive measures are ones that are typically recommended - use good handwashing practices, avoid contact with people that are sick, avoid touching your face and cough into your elbow.

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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