Lauren Nichols has been suffering from bad health effects since her COVID-19 infection in the spring of 2020.
The 34-year-old worker for the U.S. Department of Transportation in Boston has had problems with thinking and attention. She has also suffered from tiredness, seizures, headaches and pain.
Last June, Nichols’ doctor suggested she take small amounts of naltrexone, a drug often used to treat alcohol and opioid addiction. The result, she said, was that after more than two years of living in "a thick... cloud...I can actually think clearly."
Researchers chase long COVID treatments
Researchers are studying treatments for the long-lasting effects of COVID infections, known as long COVID. They are excited to learn if naltrexone can offer similar helpful effects to millions of people suffering from health problems months after a coronavirus infection.
Reuters studied information from Clinicaltrials.gov and spoke to 12 health researchers about long COVID. The news agency found that there are at least four special studies known as clinical trials that plan to test naltrexone in hundreds of patients with long COVID.
Naltrexone is also one of a few treatments to be tested in the U.S. National Institutes of Health's $1 billion RECOVER Initiative. Advisers to the effort say the aim is to learn more about causes of long COVID and to find treatments.
Unlike treatments aimed at symptoms caused by COVID damage to organs, such as the lungs, low-dose naltrexone (LDN) may reverse some of the problems that are creating symptoms, they said.
What is naltrexone?
Naltrexone has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in low doses for years to treat conditions such as fibromyalgia, Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis, said Dr. Jarred Younger of the Neuro-inflammation, Pain and Fatigue Laboratory at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
At 50 milligrams - 10 times the low dose - naltrexone is approved to treat opioid and alcohol addiction.
Several drug manufacturers sell 50mg pills, but low-dose naltrexone must be purchased through a special drug store.
Younger wrote a scientific study of the drug as an anti-inflammatory. In September, he put in a grant application to study LDN for long COVID. "It should be at the top of everyone's list for clinical trials," he said.
Much to be learned
Still, the drug is unlikely to help all patients with long COVID. The condition includes about 200 symptoms including pain and heart issues, sleep problems, and thinking problems.
Dr. Jack Lambert is an infectious disease expert at University College Dublin School of Medicine. He advised the use of LDN to other doctors treating patients who were suffering from symptoms after COVID.
It worked so well that he ran a study among 38 long COVID patients. They reported improvements in energy, pain, concentration, sleep, and overall recovery from COVID-19 after two months, findings published in July said.
Lambert is planning a larger study to confirm those results. He said LDN might repair damage caused by the disease rather than hide its symptoms.
Other planned LDN trials include one by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and a study by AgelessRx, a new company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That study of 36 volunteers should have results by the end of this year, said company co-founder Sajad Zalzala.
Scientists are still working to explain exactly how LDN might work.
Reports say RECOVER officials are considering other possible treatments for long COVID. These include antiviral drugs, such as Pfizer's Paxlovid, blood-thinning drugs, steroids and nutritional supplements.
RECOVER officials said they have received many proposals but could not comment on which drugs will be tested until trials are finalized.
Nichols, a patient adviser to RECOVER, was very happy when she learned LDN was being considered for the government-supported studies.
While LDN has not cured all of her COVID-related problems, Nichols can now work all day without breaks and have a social life at home.
"It has made me feel like a human again," she said.
I’m John Russell.
Julie Steenhuysen reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
seizure – n. (medical) an state in which you become unconscious and your body moves in an uncontrolled and violent way
opioid – n. a compound that is like opium in terms of its addictive properties or effects on the body
anti-inflammatory – adj. (medical) used to control or reduce inflammation
dose –n. the amount of a medicine needed to give a good effect
grant – n. an amount of money that is given to someone by a government or a company to be used for a particular purpose
application – n. a formal and usually written request for something (such as a job, admission to a school, or a loan)
symptom –n. a sign that a disease or infection is present
concentration – n. the ability to give your attention or thought to a single object or activity : the ability to concentrate
steroid –n. a chemical that can be produced by the body that signals several body processes