by Lisa M. Krieger
Can Paxlovid Solve One of the Biggest Mysteries of the Epidemic? A new study at Stanford University aims to find out.
In the nation’s first medical trial of an antiviral strategy to treat prolonged COVID, scientists are testing the drug to see if it helps ease the misery of fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, body aches, gastrointestinal symptoms and heart problems.
“It’s important to get more understanding about whether this is an effective treatment,” said lead researcher Dr. Linda Ging, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Stanford and co-director of the Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome Clinic at Stanford University.
Currently, baxlofide is only given immediately after infection, before the virus gains a firm foothold in the body. Proven to reduce the risk of long-term COVID infection, hospitalization, and death.
It has not yet been tested in people who are chronically ill, months or years after infection. The Stanford study is recruiting 200 participants to see if people given a 15-day regimen of paxlovid feel better than those given a placebo. Both groups will be monitored over a period of 4.5 months to see if symptoms improve.
To date, there are no proven treatments for the novel coronavirus, which is infecting millions of Americans.
But some long-distance hikers noticed their illness subsided after taking the drug for possible re-infection—inspiring the Stanford team to take a closer look at the treatment, which attacks the virus by inhibiting a key enzyme it needs to make new molecules.
Last spring, Geng and a team of researchers at Stanford University reported that a 47-year-old woman’s long-term COVID symptoms—fatigue, cognitive problems, and a rapid heartbeat—disappeared after she took Paxlovid. The patient was able to return to work and vigorous exercise.
Scientists still don’t know exactly what causes prolonged COVID disease. The search for treatments has been hampered by the complexity of the disability. Symptoms may come and go, and they vary widely.
“When we go to the doctors, they never know what to do with us. They always send us to another specialist, and have more tests that never show anything is happening,” said 25-year-old Ibrahim Rashid. , who was injured two years ago and finally regained enough strength to run and practice martial arts. “You are spending a lot of money and emotional energy changing the medical system.”
One theory is that the disability results from an overactive immune response to the virus, even after the virus is gone. Another is that the virus persists in the body tenaciously.
The Stanford University study tests the theory that, at least in some cases, long-term covid is caused by the persistence of the virus — and antiviral drugs can help kill it off.
Geng said that scientists have detected fragments of viral genetic material in the blood and feces of “long transport vessels”, indicating that the virus is still hiding in various tissues of the body.
“It may be that the COVID virus somehow evaded our immune system, and so remained somewhere in our bodies,” said Geng. “But we don’t know that… We don’t fully understand where these viral particles are coming from.”
She indicated that antiviral drugs succeed in confronting other types of infections, such as influenza, Ebola, HIV, hepatitis, and herpes.
Patients and advocacy groups welcomed the news of the study.
“We have called for a trial for Paxlovid, and the time has come,” said Diana Burnt-Goethe, founder of a longtime COVID support group called Survivor Corps. “Beginning in the winter of 2021, we have observed that many long-term COVID patients experience some degree of symptomatic relief after vaccination, indicating there is persistence of the virus.”
Millions of Americans suffer persistent disabling symptoms long after the initial infection, and the death toll will continue to rise with each additional wave.
Rashid, whose months of illness, without treatment, inspired him to try anything that might work, said Rashid, to build an app called Strong Haulers, which helps people with chronic illnesses track their symptoms and other health data.
“They turn to alternative therapies, changing their diet, yoga, meditation…but some are still stuck in bed. And lifestyle changes can only take you so far. There is no pharmacological way to relieve these symptoms,” he said.
Goethe said the Stanford trial marks just the beginning of what should be a broader search for long-term COVID treatments.
“We can’t do this investigation one treatment after another. We need many trials, many treatment compounds studied, and done simultaneously,” she said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time and still stick to the science.”
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