The deadly novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) strain has killed at least 138 people, with nearly 6,000 confirmed infections in China and worldwide. As Chinese health officials scramble to prevent the outbreak of a global epidemic, researchers are looking at readily available drugs to combat the pathogen.
One such cure could come in the form of lopinavir and ritonavir – two anti-HIV drugs used to target specific enzymes in the body.
Dr Ernest Kuchar from the Warsaw Medical University in Poland said the drug could offer a breakthrough in the coronavirus epidemic.
He told the Polish Press Agency (PAP): “Antiviral drugs used in HIV infections are a light at the end of the tunnel.”
However, the epidemiologist said clinical trials involving coronavirus patients will first need to assess their effectiveness.
The anti-HIV drugs target specific enzymes in the body that both HIV and coronaviruses use to replicate themselves.
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The deadly viral infections target the enzyme protease which they use to slash proteins in the process of replicating.
According to a January 24 report published in The Lancet by Chinese scientists, lopinavir and ritonavir were previously used to treat MERS infections in Saudi Arabia.
MERS or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) is another infectious disease associated with the coronavirus family.
Because the novel coronavirus pathogen has only been identified in December last year, there has not been enough time to devise a treatment targeting this specific virus.
The report reads: “As 2019-nCoV is an emerging virus, an effective treatment has not been developed for disease resulting from this virus.
“Since the combination of lopinavir and ritonavir was already available in the designated hospital, a randomised controlled trial has been initiated quickly to assess the efficacy and safety of combined use of lopinavir and ritonavir in patients hospitalised with 2019-nCoV infection.”
Antiviral drugs used in HIV infections are a light at the end of the tunnel
Dr Ernest Kuchar, Warsaw Medical University
The novel coronavirus first emerged in China’s Wuhan City, Hubei Province, in December 2019.
The virus was initially tracked down to a busy seafood and livestock market, which would have been the perfect hotspot for a viral infection to spread.
The coronavirus family is zoonotic, meaning it can spread from animals to humans.
On January 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the virus has spread far out beyond China’s borders to 14 countries.
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As of Wednesday, January 29, the coronavirus has killed at least 138 people and infected more than 5,900.
Dr Kuchar said: “The mortality rate in previous coronavirus outbreaks was terrifyingly high but it ended with several hundred deaths around the world.”
He added: “Coronaviruses have been known for years. They trigger 10 to 20 percent of all colds.”
Between 2002 and 2003, Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV) infected nearly 8,000 people around the globe.
Dr Kuchar said: “The disease had a higher mortality rate: 50 percent ended up in intensive care units and 10 percent died.”
The epidemic killed more than 700 people and is believed to have been spread by civet cats in Asia.
Then in 2012, the MERS epidemic erupted when a new strain of coronavirus attacked humans.
Symptoms of novel coronavirus infections include fever, dry cough and breathing difficulties.
More advanced infections can develop into pneumonia, kidney failure and death.
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