SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Doctors at UCSF believe a drug that is used for high-risk COVID patients, may also help those with long COVID. They say Paxlovid is usually given at the onset of symptoms, but some patients saw improvement in long-COVID symptoms weeks after contracting the virus.

KRON4 spoke with infectious disease specialists about further studies and how this treatment could be applied to other viruses.

If we could easily get a medication, that’s affordable, around the world to everyone who could immediately take it, and it would stop the possibility of hospitalization and death,” Infectious Diseases Professor at UC Berkeley Dr. Johnson Swartzberg said. It may even prevent long COVID. This virus would not be so threatening to any of us.”

Some infectious disease specialists believe antivirals, like Paxlovid, could change the game. Swartzberg says more people need to know about Paxlovid for both its benefits and for initial COVID symptoms and possibly long COVID.

“If they take Paxlovid within the first 5 days of their illness, it reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by close to 90%,” Swartzberg said. “That’s fabulous. There’s not enough people who are availing themselves of this.”

Dr. Monica Gandhi is an infectious disease specialist at UCSF where doctors first discovered that Paxlovid may have an impact on long COVID. Doctors there gave patients with long COVID symptoms Paxlovid long after infection, and they saw improvements from their lingering symptoms.

She says giving them Paxlovid makes sense because if you had a severe reaction to the virus initially, you may still have inflammation or the virus may be lingering in your system.

“The idea is if you give an oral antiviral can you make any virus that’s still in your system go away because you’re killing the virus with the oral antiviral,” Gandhi said.

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She says realizing this antiviral can be used for long-term symptoms may change the way doctor’s approach treating long-term symptoms of other viruses.

But right now this is just preliminary data with a very small group, and doctors say it still needs to be tested further.

“What we need is a double-blinded placebo controlled trial,” Swartzberg said. “Translation, we need to take people with long COVID, and some of them will get a placebo, a sugar pill and some of them will get Paxlovid, and we’ll see how they do.”