The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted over 50 million people so far and has claimed more than 1.3 million lives across the globe. Although there are few vaccines which have shown encouraging results, the virus continues to spread, with many countries experiencing second waves right now. It will take some time for the approval of these vaccines and then the big issue will be their bulk production and distribution to all countries. This makes finding an effective drug to treat the disease very important, and scientists worldwide are racing against time to find therapeutic solutions that will help treat COVID-19 patients.
An ideal treatment would speed up symptomatic recovery, decrease viral load, and expedite viral clearance and reduce mortality. Although certain treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, dexamethasone, remdesivir, antibody therapies, and convalescent plasma have shown some efficacy, an effective treatment to fight severe COVID-19 is still not a reality.
A team of researchers from universities across Pakistan, Chile, Australia, Canada, and the United States proposed a natural remedy to combat coronavirus and carried out clinical trial on honey and Nigella sativa (HNS) (annual flowering plant also known as Black Cumin/Kalonji) to explore their potential in treating coronavirus infection. It was the first clinical trial against COVID-19 worldwide of its kind where these two natural products were tested against this brutal virus.
The researchers intended to investigate the potential, as previous studies had shown, that both components of HNS have proven anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulatory effects.
Many components of both have shown high affinity and inhibitory potentials against SARS-CoV-2 virus. Honey has been shown to be beneficial in fighting respiratory infections and Nigella sativa is a medicinal plant which has been proven to have anti-viral properties against many viruses. In vitro studies have shown that it can decrease the replication of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV).
For the study, the researchers performed a multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial in 313 patients with COVID-19 of varying severity. The researchers observed viral clearance, alleviation of symptoms as some of the outcomes after the administration of HNS.
Of the 313 patients, part of the study cohort, 210 patients with moderate symptoms and 103 with severe COVID-19 underwent randomization. Among these patients, 107 received HNS, and 103 moderate cases received a placebo. Fifty severe COVID-19 patients were given HNS, and 53 severe cases received placebo. Administration of HNS led to alleviation of symptoms by day three in moderate cases and day seven in severe cases.
In addition, patients with HNS treatment achieved a negative PCR test four days earlier than those who did not receive the HNS treatment. HNS also reduced mortality in severe cases.
The researchers of this study concluded that HNS can be used as a safe and effective therapy in COVID-19 patients as it encourages faster recovery and survival
Dr Sohaib Ashraf, who is the principal investigator of this study, and a research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston stated, “we searched on scientific literature for any miracle drug that can be globally accessible (considering a pandemic) with established wide range efficacy against viruses and other microbes and we found two marvel drugs, honey and Nigella sativa the perfect fit.”
The researchers of this study concluded that HNS can be used as a safe and effective therapy in COVID-19 patients as it encourages faster recovery and survival. Some benefits of this potential treatment option are its ‘over the counter’ availability, affordability – less than $5 for the entire treatment course, and ease of administration as it can be a home-based remedy.
Moreover, HNS can also be used in combination with other drugs for increased efficacy. The researchers believe that this treatment will significantly reduce the burden on global health care systems.
Dr. Shoaib Ashraf, from Harvard Medical School, USA described that the cocktail of natural pharmaceutical augment the effect of one another and hence producing such promising results against this deadly virus.
As communities began to reopen restaurants and stores during the spring and summer of 2020, people were understandably eager to be able to go out and resume some of their regular activities. But the number of people infected with the coronavirus was still high in many areas, and transmission of the virus was easily rekindled once people increased their activities and contact with each other.
Medical experts urged reopening communities to continue diligent COVID-19 precautions, including physical distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing, and monitoring for symptoms. Unfortunately, the combination of reopening and lapses in these infection prevention efforts has caused the number of coronavirus infections to rise again during the second wave.
As the whole world is waiting for vaccines but there is still time to achieve it, therefore, it is highly vital to find treatment to cure infected individuals. The results of this study are very promising but a multinational study with a larger sample size is required to investigate potential variations in responses to the treatment in COVID-19 patients from different racial and ethnic origins.
The writer works as assistant professor in virology at the Department of Biology, College of Science, University of Bahrain