How The Philippines Is Getting Better at Treating COVID-19
Over the past few months, our knowledge of COVID-19 has been growing. It's a good time to focus on positive developments in COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
1| Nonpharmaceutical interventions really work if used correctly and consistently.
Physical distancing of at least one meter or more decreases the risk of infection by 80 percent. Wearing a mask reduces risk by 85 percent. Let's all try to do this and maybe we can keep the pandemic under control.
2| Remdesivir is coming to the Philippines!
And an inhaled version is in the works. So far, this is the only drug that has been shown to have a modest effect on severe COVID-19 disease—local trials are ongoing. Hopefully, one of many to come.
3| Monoclonal antibodies against COVID19 are coming!
These are easier to scale up than convalescent plasma, and will be available much faster than any vaccine. Monoclonal antibodies also have long half-lives, meaning one dose might be enough. It also has the potential to act as a "passive" vaccine that we can give to our healthcare workers and vulnerable population. We should have some good data in about one to three months.
4| Better antibody tests are coming.
Lab-based ELISAs are up to 99% sensitive and 100 percent specific if done 14 days after symptom onset. Some of these measure neutralizing antibody, which would be a much better immunity correlate. ELISAs are much more sensitive than rapid tests because they use laboratory instrumentation to quantitatively measure antibody levels rather than a visual result which is subject to interobserver variability.
5| Almost all COVID-19 patients are no longer contagious by the 11th day of illness.
Korea and Singapore are changing their guidelines for clearing people from quarantine and are going for time-based clearance rather than test-based clearance. For context, RT-PCR can remain positive for up to eight weeks, but people are no longer contagious by the second week. This will allow us to record recoveries much faster (you used to have two negative RT-PCRs for clearance) and free up hospital and isolation beds. People will also be able to see their loved ones sooner.
6| More severe and critical COVID-19 patients are surviving as doctors get better at treating its complications.
From early intubation, pulmonologists have moved on to high flow nasal cannulas and noninvasive positive pressure ventilation. IL-6 inhibitors like tocilizumab (available locally) are in trials and are showing promise in keeping people alive.
There is so much more but these are the highlights. This is yet another benefit of shutting down early. Aside from giving our healthcare system a chance to catch up, our knowledge of COVID-19 is growing and we will be better able to take care of those unfortunate enough to get infected. But prevention is still better than cure so keep those masks on and we should do our best to protect each other.
This post originally appeared on Dr. Edsel Salvaña's Facebook page and has been edited by Esquire Philippines.
Edsel Maurice T. Salvana, MD, DTM&H, FPCP, FIDSA is an award-winning infectious diseases specialist and molecular biologist at the University of the Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital. He has written and spoken extensively about HIV in the Philippines, the Dengvaxia controversy, and the COVID-19 outbreak. As a Senior TED Fellow, he is constantly seeking ways to communicate complicated scientific concepts to a lay audience, and strongly believes that this is the best way to combat pseudoscience and fake news.