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HIV Antivirals Successfully Treat Coronavirus Patient in South Korea

As the outbreak of novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, rages on, experts are searching for ways to fight the disease long-term.

Less than two months after the outbreak began, one vaccine manufacturer, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, is on track to start clinical trials in April. And providers at a South Korean hospital say they successfully decreased COVID-19’s viral load with HIV drugs.

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United Press International reports that the 54-year-old male patient was quarantined at Myongji Hospital outside Seoul and diagnoses with the virus on Jan. 26. For a week, providers administered a drug that combines lopinavir and ritonavir (brand name Kaletra). The day after the first round of the unorthodox treatment, the “viral load started to decrease, and no detectable or little coronavirus titers have been observed since then,” according to a summary from the hospital.

The treatment theoretically works by “blocking an enzyme the virus needs to mature,” according to L.A. Times. Early studies on the use of HIV antivirals during the SARS outbreak. Providers are also reportedly experimenting with Ebola and malaria drugs as possible treatments.

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Of course, the apparent success of the Kaletra is far from definitive, and it certainly does not mean that antivirals should become the standard of care for COVID-19. As authors of the hospital’s report note, it’s possible the improvement came from the natural healing process — but it is a viable option for patients with a high risk of severe illness from coronavirus, such as the elderly and those with chronic conditions.

Ultimately, a clinical trial is necessary for the treatment to go mainstream.

For now, the Centers for Disease Control say treatment for COVID-19 should be supportive care. Health professionals should also follow infection control measures, and follow up with outpatients in the second week of symptoms, as the illness may worse during this timeframe.

RELATED: What Healthcare Providers Should Know About China’s Novel Coronavirus 2019-nCoV

As of Feb. 14, the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, has sickened almost 65,000 people in at least 28 countries and killed more than 1,300. The U.S. has seen 14 cases, two of which through person-to-person transmission.


South Korean hospital successfully treats coronavirus patient with HIV drugs, United Press International.

Doctors fight coronavirus outbreak with drugs that target HIV, malaria and Ebola, Los Angeles Times.

Interim Clinical Guidance for Management of Patients with Confirmed 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Infection, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Case, Johns Hopkins.

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