Could taking a pill help reduce mild COVID-19 symptoms? Stanford launches trial to find out

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- A new drug trial is underway at Stanford University to determine if an oral medication can treat the four in five coronavirus cases with mild or moderate symptoms.

The drug is favipiravir, approved to treat flu in Japan and approved to treat the coronavirus in China, India and Russia.

Stanford started the human study a week ago seeking 120 adult volunteers newly confirmed with COVID-19 who are outpatients.

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"Those are really important people because they can actually help us stop this epidemic. That's the group of people that needs to really be careful not to transmit to others because they're out in the public, they're working, etc," said Prof. Yvonne Maldonado, M.D., Stanford Infectious Disease Specialist.

The Stanford test will observe whether favipiravir will not only reduces symptoms but also shortens viral shedding, the spread of the virus to others.

Transmission among family members is a major concern.

ABC7 special correspondent Dr. Alok Patel says there is no proven outpatient treatment right now. A common complaint he hears is outpatients complaining of fatigue, unable to work or to function.

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"It's honestly a disservice when we say 99% of cases are harmless or, hey, 80% of cases are asymptomatic or mildly have nothing to worry about. There's still a large portion of people who could really benefit from an outpatient treatment," said Patel.

Other oral drugs are also being evaluated.

"One drug or another might not work, or it may not work all by itself. And so the question is, might it be possible to combine drugs?" said Dr. Maldonado.

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