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Could these antiviral pills treat long COVID?

Lisa M. Krieger, The Mercury News on

Published in Health & Fitness

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Could Paxlovid solve one of the pandemic’s biggest puzzles? A new study at Stanford University aims to find out.

In the nation’s first medical trial of an antiviral strategy to treat long COVID, scientists are testing the drug to see if it helps ease the misery of fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, body aches, digestive symptoms and heart problems.

“It is important to gain further understanding whether this could be effective therapy,” said principal investigator Dr. Linda Geng, clinical assistant professor at Stanford Medicine and co-director of Stanford’s Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome Clinic.

Currently, Paxlovid is only given immediately after infection, before the virus gains a firm foothold in the body. It is proven to reduce the risk of long COVID, hospitalization and death.

It has not yet been tested in those with chronic illness, months or years after infection. The Stanford study is recruiting 200 participants to learn whether people treated with a 15-day regimen of Paxlovid feel better than those treated with a placebo. Both groups will be monitored over 4.5 months to see if symptoms improve.

To date, no established treatments exist for long COVID, which affects millions of Americans.

 

But some long-haulers have noted that their sicknesses subsided after taking the drug for possible reinfection – inspiring the Stanford team to take a closer look at the treatment, which attacks the virus by inhibiting a key enzyme that it needs to make new particles.

Last spring, Geng and a team of Stanford researchers reported that a 47-year-old woman’s long-COVID symptoms, such as fatigue, cognitive problems and a racing heartbeat – vanished after she took Paxlovid. The patient was able to return to work and rigorous exercise.

Scientists still don’t know exactly what causes long COVID. The search for therapies has been stymied by the disability’s complexity. Symptoms may come and go, and they vary widely.

“When we go to physicians, they never know what to do with us. They always just send us to another specialist, and go through more and more tests that never show that anything is going on,” said 25-year-old Ibrahim Rashid, who was infected two years ago and is finally regaining enough strength to run and do martial arts. “You spend so much money and emotional energy getting shuffled through the medical system.”

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