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UIC, Northwestern Hospitals Testing Antiviral Drug To Treat Coronavirus

It could take six to eight weeks before doctors know if the drug is effective, a UIC doctor said.

UIC Hospital is set to launch a phase 3 clinical trial Monday to test a vaccine developed by Massachusetts-based biotech company Moderna.
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MEDICAL DISTRICT — The University of Illinois and Northwestern University hospitals in Chicago are among more than 75 hospitals across the world testing the efficacy of an antiviral drug that could help fight coronavirus.

UIC and Northwestern University are taking part in a multi-center study to test the drug remdesivir to treat patients with COVID-19, said Dr. Richard Novak, head of the division of infectious diseases at UI Health. The study is sponsored by the National Institute of Healthcare.

The antiviral drug previously helped treat patients during the ebola outbreak in 2014, but has not been approved to treat patients with COVID-19 yet, Novak said.

But in laboratory studies, remdesivir has shown to be effective in treating coronaviruses, including COVID-19.

As of Friday afternoon, two patients had been enrolled in UIC’s study, Novak said. He expects to complete study enrollment at the hospital by the end of this week.

UIC plans to conduct a “randomized, double-blind study placebo and control trial,” Novak said. Half of patients will receive remdesivir and the other half will receive a placebo through an intravenous infusion once a day for up to 10 days depending on a person’s hospitalizations, he said.

“There’s no treatment (at the moment) so the only way we will know if it works is if we have a comparative group,” Novak said.

UIC aims to enroll at least 10 people and the study’s goal is to enroll 440 COVID-19 patients worldwide. Currently about half that amount of patients are enrolled at 75 sites globally, Novak said.

It could be six to eight weeks before doctors know whether the drug is effective in treating COVID-19, Novak said.

The National Institute of Healthcare will evaluate the data will make a recommendation to stop the study or give the drug to patients if it is effective in treating the virus.

Stopping the Spread

Novak said “social distancing is one of the most important things” to help curb the spread of the virus. 

“The reason it is spreading so much is because people have contact with one another,” Novak said. “If we can get people to social distance and shelter in place for a couple of weeks, which is the longest incubation of the virus, we might actually have an impact on reducing the transmission rate.”

The current number of cases being reported are a product of transmissions that have occurred over the last two weeks and are only now becoming symptomatic, Novak said.  

“We are going to continue to see a dramatic increase this week and the week after. Maybe after that, we will see an effect of the shelter in place as long as people follow that order,” Novak said.


Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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