Paxlovid may reduce your risk of long-term COVID, new study suggests
We know that Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment used to treat COVID-19, can dramatically improve protection against severe illness or hospitalization. It now appears that a combination of drugs may also help reduce the risk of long-term COVID after infection.
New studypublished online but not yet peer-reviewed, found that eligible people who took Paxlovid within five days of being diagnosed with COVID-19 were significantly less likely to experience long-term symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive problems and muscle pain, plus kidney, liver and heart problems.
Scientists have he wondered if Paxlovid may have this effect, but evidence of the treatment’s ability to prevent long-term COVID is so far limited. Approximately 1 in 5 people who get COVID-19 experience persistent symptoms, and scientists have been eager to develop long-term treatment options for COVID that can effectively prevent and treat the condition, which until now has been disabling millions people.
“It’s very exciting, because it suggests there is a way to reduce the incidence of long-term COVID, and obviously that’s become one of the scariest aspects of COVID,” said Dr. Betty Diamonddirector of the Institute for Molecular Medicine at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research told HuffPost.
For this study, researchers evaluated medical records obtained from the US Department of Veterans Affairs on 56,340 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 between March and June 2022 and had at least one risk factor for severe COVID-19.
Of the group, 9,217 patients were treated with Paxlovide within five days of diagnosis, and 47,123 did not receive the drug. The research team then calculated how effective the treatment was up to 90 days after infection and found that those who took Paxlovid – three pills twice a day for five days – had a 26% lower risk of long-term COVID.
Paxlovid was associated with a lower risk for a range of long-term symptoms of COVID. People taking Paxlovid were also 30% less likely to be hospitalized and 48% less likely to die. The antiviral drug was beneficial regardless of vaccination status — all people who were unvaccinated, vaccinated, and boosted had a lower risk of developing long-term COVID if they took Paxlovid. The same applies to people who were previously infected or reinfected.
The new findings suggest Paxlovid can significantly reduce the risk of long-term COVID in people who are at risk of severe disease, and researchers hope the report will encourage more doctors to prescribe the pill to eligible patients. “By the time you get COVID, this can make you less likely to get long-term COVID,” Diamond said.
“Part of the underuse may be due to clinicians having misperceptions about how it works, for whom it works, and the possibility that individuals receiving Paxlovid may be at greater risk of ‘recovery from COVID-19,'” said Dr. Prasanna Jagannathanan infectious disease specialist with Stanford Health Care. Recovery from COVID-19 — or a recurrence of symptoms — is common, even among people not taking Paxlovid, so that shouldn’t be a reason not to prescribe it, Jagannathan added.
How Paxlovid works and who should take it
Paxlovid works by inhibiting the virus’s ability to replicate in the body, essentially preventing the pathogen from wreaking as much havoc as it could. This makes it less likely that people will end up seriously ill or in hospital. Even as new variants emerged, the drug held up well, according to Diamond, who expects it to continue to work as the coronavirus continues to evolve.
There are several theories as to why Paxlovid may also reduce the risk of long-term COVID. The first is that by inhibiting viral replication and reducing viral load, the drug can make people’s immune systems less likely to produce auto-antibodies, which can damage healthy tissues and organs and cause a range of troublesome symptoms. Another theory is that the drug may speed up the rate at which the virus is cleared from the body, making it less likely that lingering virus will continue to cause symptoms, Diamond said.
Evidence shows that the drug works best in people who are most at risk. It’s not known if it’s just as effective in people who are generally healthy, we just don’t have the data. More studies are needed to see if people who are not at risk can benefit from taking Paxlovid, Jagannathan said. For now, only people at higher risk are eligible for treatment. Find out if you qualify for Paxlovid, you can talk to your primary care doctor, visit a treatment test health clinicor contact a pharmacy in your area who has it in stock.
Note that there are many other questions that need to be answered about Paxlovid – for example, whether people might benefit if they start taking it more than five days after diagnosis, whether it can be taken for a shorter or longer period of time, if the findings can generalize to all races and ethnicities, and if there is a certain viral load that needs to be reached to reduce the risk of long-term COVID, Diamond said. The findings also need to be confirmed in future studies.
But ultimately, the new study offers a compelling reason for more people to take Paxlovid.
“We need to understand a lot more about this because we need to reduce the incidence of long-term COVID, and here we have our first real hand,” Diamond said.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance may change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most up-to-date recommendations.
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