The Brits are deliberately infecting test subjects with COVID

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Everyone else is trying to dodge the novel coronavirus as best they can, but a group of people in Great Britain have recently gone the opposite route. They have signed up to have doctors deliberately expose them to the virus as part of a “human challenge” trial. While this may sound rather crazy, this type of testing has been used for many years and allows researchers to gather data on diseases and the effectiveness of measures taken to prevent or treat them. Still, you’d have to be a little nervous when someone in a surgical mask shows to give you COVID, right? (Reuters)

The world’s first “human challenge” trial in which volunteers were deliberately exposed to COVID-19 to advance research into the disease was found to be safe in healthy young adults, leaders of the study said on Wednesday.

The data supports the safety of this model and could lay the groundwork for future studies to test new vaccines and medicines against COVID-19.

Open Orphan (ORPH.L) is running the project, launched in February last year, with Imperial College London, the British government’s vaccines task force and the clinical company  hVIVO.

According to this report, these human challenge trials have been used when studying diseases including malaria, flu, typhoid and cholera, among others. And the current study isn’t even the first time the technique has been used against COVID. Researchers at Oxford tried to reinfect people who had previously had COVID last April to better understand the natural human immune system response to the virus.

I suppose they are being as safe as can reasonably be managed. All of the subjects are between the ages of 18 and 29 and described as being “healthy.” Those would be the people at the lowest risk of experiencing severe adverse symptoms. After being exposed, they are kept in quarantine and closely monitored, so the best treatment is available if something goes very wrong. Once released, they are monitored for an additional twelve months.

The results from the Oxford study last April were apparently useful in the research community. Of the 36 patients who were exposed, 18 of them became infected. Of those, all but two of them experienced mild to moderate symptoms (a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, headaches, or soreness). Thirteen of them lost their sense of smell, but ten of those regained it within 90 days.

That was the result that really shocked me. We’ve heard scattered reports of patients losing either their sense of smell or taste, but in this study, all but three of the reinfected test subjects did. That’s an extremely high percentage. I wonder if a lot of other patients are losing their sense of smell but either not noticing it or not reporting it?

I haven’t found any reports of these “human challenge” tests for COVID in the United States yet, but it sounds as if some valuable research is taking place. My hat is off to anyone who goes out and signs up for such a program. You’ve got a much stiffer spine than I do.