In a new study, researchers found treatment with antivirals such as interferons may strongly improve virus clearance and reduce inflammation in COVID-19 patients.
They found that treatment with interferon (IFN)-α2b strongly reduced the duration of detectable virus in the upper respiratory tract and reduced blood levels of interleukin(IL)-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP), two inflammatory proteins found in the human body.
The findings may help develop an effective antiviral intervention for COVID-19, which is an ongoing global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Toronto and elsewhere.
The research team considered IFN-α therapy for COVID-19 after they demonstrated interferons had therapeutic benefits during the SARS outbreak of 2002 and 2003.
In this study, they examined the course of disease in 77 people with con-firmed COVID-19 admitted to Union Hospital, Tongii Medical College, Wuhan, China, between January 16th and February 20th, 2020.
The patients consisted of only moderate cases of COVID-19, as none of the patients required intensive care or oxygen supplementation or intubation.
Patients were either treated with IFN-α2b, arbidol (ARB), which is a broad-spectrum antiviral, or a combination of IFN-α2b plus ARB, and viral clearance was defined as two consecutive negative tests for virus at least 24 hours apart, from throat swab samples.
The researchers found a strongly different rate of viral clearance for each treatment group and notably, IFN-α2b treatment accelerated viral clearance by approximately 7 days.
Treatment with IFN-α2b, whether alone or in combination with ARB, accelerated viral clearance when compared to ARB treatment alone.
IFN treatment was also demonstrated to significantly reduce circulating levels of IL-6 and CRP, whether alone or in combination with ARB.
The influence of age, co-morbidities, and sex did not negate the effects of IFN treatment on viral clearance times or on the reduction in the inflammatory proteins IL-6 and CRP.
The work provides several important and novel insights into COVID-19 disease, notably that treatment with IFN-α2b accelerated viral clearance from the upper respiratory tract and also reduced circulating inflammatory biomarkers.
This hints at functional connections between viral infection and host end-organ damage by limiting the subsequent inflammatory response in the lungs of patients.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Eleanor Fish of the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute & University of Toronto’s Department of Immunology.
The study is published in Frontiers in Immunology.
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