COVID-19 poses complex challenges

11 March 2020

As drug trials begin researchers stress the need for constant surveillance.

Muriel Cozier

11th March 2020

Scientists from the US’ NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have concluded that the emergence and spread of nCOVID-19 (novel coronavirus) poses complex challenges to global public health, research and medical communities. The finding was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

In response to the outbreak the US and other countries imposed temporary travel restrictions, which, the researchers say may have slowed the spread of nCOVID-19. However, the researchers warn that given the apparent efficiency of virus transmission, everyone should be prepared for nCOVID-19 to gain a foothold throughout the world. If the disease begins to spread in US communities, containment may no longer be a realistic goal and response efforts will probably have to move toward various mitigation strategies, which would include isolating people at home, closing schools and encouraging remote working. The researchers conclude ‘The COVID-19 outbreak is a stark reminder of the ongoing challenge of emerging and re-emerging infectious pathogens and the need for constant surveillance, prompt diagnosis and robust research to understand the basic biology of new organisms and our susceptibility to them as well as to develop effective countermeasures.’

In the meantime, clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the investigational antiviral remdesivir in adults diagnosed with nCOVID-19 have begun. The hospitalised patients are at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska, US, the trial regulatory sponsor is NIAID. The trial’s first volunteer was a US citizen who had been repatriated after been quarantined in the Diamond Princess cruise ship that docked in Yokohama, Japan. Remdesivir is an investigational broad-spectrum antiviral treatment. It has been tested on humans infected with the Ebola virus. Commenting at the end of February 2020 NIAID said ‘We urgently need a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19. Although remdesivir has been administered to some patients with COVID-19, we do not have solid data to indicate that it can improve clinical outcomes.’

DOI: 10.1056/NEJMe2002387

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