If at the moment there is something that excites everyone without exception, then this is a new coronavirus infection and its consequences.
Doctors and scientists around the world are not only developing a vaccine to help prevent a second pandemic, but they are also looking for drugs that can neutralize the virus.
Let’s see what they offer to treat COVID-19 right now, which options are the most promising and which problems may arise.
How the pandemic started
Most of us already had coronavirus infection, and more than once. It can be hard to believe if the only coronavirus you have heard of is SARS-CoV-2.
However, coronaviruses are a family of hundreds of species, most of which are not life threatening, and some can cause a person’s common cold – that is, VRI.
Coronavirus was first discovered in chickens in the 1930s, and the human coronavirus was discovered thirty years later. It is believed that the four most common coronaviruses cause a cold: 229E, NL63, OC43, HKU1.
Sometimes viruses mutate, which makes them much more dangerous – this was the case with the causative agents of VRI in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome in 2012.
And at the end of 2019, a new virus called SARS-CoV-2 became unexpectedly dangerous. It is believed that all of them appeared as a result of mutations of viruses that previously only affected animals.
Previous outbreaks of coronavirus infections (in 2002, 2012, 2015 and 2018) did not turn into pandemics: then the symptoms were much more severe and it was easier for doctors to identify and isolate patients.
The new coronavirus is dangerous precisely because the infection can proceed with minimal symptoms or is generally asymptomatic, which does not prevent the carrier of the virus from spreading it further.
The vaccines that we already have
A list of over a hundred possible candidates for a new coronavirus vaccine looks impressive. Is it possible to use any of the many already licensed vaccines?
Potentially – yes, one of the known vaccines can protect the body from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. It is only necessary to prove it.
Now scientists are considering two options: the BCG vaccine and the MMR vaccine. The first, designed to protect against tuberculosis and existing for 80 years, is perhaps able to reduce the severity of the infection and reduce the damage that it causes to the body.
A second combination vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, researchers at Cambridge University suggest, may be useful in stimulating the immune response.
This is consistent with the fact that children are surprisingly resistant to COVID-19, compared with other age groups: most of them have been vaccinated relatively recently.
The problem with these vaccines is that for every study that confirms their unique antiviral capabilities, there is a study that denies these options.
To talk about something for sure, we need detailed studies in large samples.
Re-profiling of drugs
Initially, the treatment of pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus came down to maintenance therapy – from antibiotics to cope with the joined bacterial infection, to mechanical ventilation in the most severe cases.
It may take decades to develop a completely new antiviral drug – but it is likely that some of the existing drugs will be effective.
Generally speaking, doctors often prescribe to patients with certain diseases drugs that were created to treat or correct other conditions.
This approach is called off-label use and sometimes it becomes the only available treatment method (for example, when a drug for the treatment of a rare disease is not developed by pharmaceutical companies because of economic inappropriateness).
On average, over the fifteen years of the drug’s existence, five alternative options for its use appear on the market. It happens that in the future these new statements are officially approved.
In this situation, there are risks: the safety profile of the drug may vary for different diseases and patient groups. Moreover, there is evidence that unwanted effects are observed in patients at 44% more often when using the drug not according to the instructions.
On the other hand, there are success stories.
A good example of reprofiling is Botox: initially approved for the treatment of abnormal contractions in the muscles of the eyelids, it showed excellent results when used for cosmetic purposes, and later began to be used to relieve spasticity in patients with cerebral palsy and migraines.
Some more positive statistics: sometimes reprofiling leads to real scientific breakthroughs, as happened with mustard gas – this poison gas was the first FDA-registered drug for treating leukemia.
Then the doctors noticed that soldiers poisoned with mustard gas in the Belgian Ypres during World War I had lower white blood cell counts. This property ultimately helped inhibit the abnormal increase in white blood cell count characteristic of leukemia.
It also works in our favor that today medical specialists have more advanced technologies in their arsenal, which, if not eliminated, can significantly reduce risks.
In particular, graph theory and artificial intelligence are involved in assessing the safety of drugs that can be used with COVID-19.
What kind of drugs will they be?
At the end of March, WHO announced the launch of research aimed at finding the most suitable drugs for treatment with COVID-19.
Already, patients with this disease are included in the clinical studies of the antiviral drug remdesivir – however, the data are still contradictory. If in preclinical studies (on animals), its effectiveness against the new coronavirus was noted, then in humans there is no obvious effect.
Other drugs that are being talked about a lot now are derivatives of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which are used to treat malaria and autoimmune diseases. They must block the proteins involved in creating new copies of the virus in the body.
Against SARS-CoV-2, they also try to use drugs for treatment HIV infections: theoretically, they can work if the new virus has similar “targets” (proteins or enzymes). True, the combination of lopinavir and ritonavir used against HIV did not live up to expectations.
The placebo effect, which causes a person to recover from ascorbic acid, has an evil double – the nocebo effect.
Everything happens to him exactly the opposite: the expectation of something bad leads to a deterioration in the patient’s condition due to the development of neurotransmitters that contribute to increased sensitivity.
For example, in 2010 in Australia, for example, the “wind turbine syndrome” was recorded, which caused people to have heart palpitations, headaches and nausea for no real reason.
And in 2018, it was found that the more often patients in a particular region google information about the negative effects of statins on the body (drugs to lower blood lipids), the more pronounced side effects of statins were recorded in this region.
Scientists think that in a pandemic it is important to keep in mind the nocebo effect – and not to do the tests “just in case”.
A positive test result for a new coronavirus in itself can make breathing more difficult and increase pain, which certainly will not accelerate recovery.
Plasma transfusion and UV rays
Speaking about promising methods of treating coronavirus, doctors often mention the manipulation of the blood of recovered patients.
First of all, this is passive immunization, which involves the transmission of antibodies to coronavirus from a person who has successfully cured, to a person who has become infected or is at risk.
Experiments have shown that serum is able to block SARS-CoV-2 in vitro – and positive effects have already been obtained in people with severe COVID-19.
As for ultraviolet radiation, it is known to cope well with the inactivation of coronavirus indoors. That is why the method is widely used in hospitals where patients with COVID-19 are admitted in order to reduce risks both for themselves and for medical personnel.
Why, if the method is so good, can’t you use it more widely? UV light in the range that is best suited for disinfection is harmful to human skin in the same way as sunlight (and we know even too well about these risks).
That is why the rooms should be completely empty during processing.
Garlic, Lemons, Ketogenic Diet
In stores, prices soared for lemons, ginger and garlic as the most well-known folk remedies with an alleged antiviral effect. Only these products do not work any miracles.
Yes, garlic has some antibacterial properties (the active compounds in it can protect at least from salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus), but its antiviral effect is small.
The lemon is the same story: although it is still an excellent source of vitamin C, which is necessary for the immune cells to function properly, it is, firstly, far from the only one (remember strawberries and broccoli), and secondly, it has no proven benefits for fight against viruses.
Do not forget to mention the ketogenic diet. Although keto has indeed demonstrated its ability to prevent the flu, these studies have been conducted in mice, and therefore it cannot be argued that humans will have a similar effect.
Summarizing: foods or supplements are not able to protect us from COVID-19, however, following the diet and eating balanced is still useful to support the body.
A study in a large Parisian hospital suggested that some component of tobacco (probably nicotine, but this still needs to be checked) can protect cells from the penetration of the virus and reduce the body’s excessive immune response, characteristic of COVID-19.
The Chinese study hints at the same, in which it was found that only 12.6% of patients with the new coronavirus were smokers, while the average number of smokers in China was 28%.
French doctors say they are ready to conduct clinical trials, if approved by the French Ministry of Health.
But they separately note that they do not encourage people to smoke: when infected with the same new coronavirus, smokers develop much more serious symptoms due to the constant toxic effect of tobacco smoke on the lungs.
In addition, smoking in itself carries many deadly health risks.
Well, some good news instead of a conclusion: Japanese scientists are confident that the current pandemic can have a positive impact on the incidence of influenza.
Right now, people wash their hands more often than ever (and in this we were not particularly good), they are additionally protected with masks and maintain a social distance.
And they, of course, will not stop doing this – at least not right away – when the crisis period is over.
There is still a lot of incomprehensibility with the new virus: scientists they are trying to challenge the evidence that smokers are less likely to have an infection, and its transmission is not yet clear.
Only we learned that the virus lives on plastic, wood and cardboard for several days, as German scientists reported that they could not cultivate a live virus, even from material taken from door handles and drain buttons in the apartments of obviously infected people.
Apparently, any data now obtained is just material for accumulation, processing and analysis.
Do not start smoking, stop washing your hands or buying prescription drugs – just follow the instructions of medical and state organizations.