Defining COVID-19 Terms: Antiviral

May 13, 2020


Elizabeth (Izzy) Montgomery, MPA
Policy Analyst

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In this installment in our series explaining key terms and phrases used by public health officials in discussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at the term “antiviral.”

As research continues to emerge regarding potential COVID-19 treatments, the term “antiviral” is often referenced. Antivirals are a class of drugs used to treat infections caused by viruses. If you have ever been sick with the flu, you may be familiar with antivirals such as oseltamivir, perhaps better known by its brand name, Tamiflu.

The antiviral remdesivir has garnered considerable attention as a treatment for COVID-19. Remdesivir, an experimental drug manufactured by the drug company Gilead, is an example of a broad-spectrum antiviral drug intended to disable a virus’ ability to replicate itself. The drug was initially developed to treat hepatitis C, but it was determined not to be effective and later was repurposed as an Ebola treatment.

In a clinical trial of remdesivir overseen by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, preliminary results found that hospitalized patients with advanced COVID-19 who received the drug recovered 31% faster than patients who received a placebo. On May 1, remdesivir received emergency use authorization approval from the Food and Drug Administration, allowing physicians to use the drug to treat severely ill and hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

While remdesivir has shown some promise in treating very ill COVID-19 patients, public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have said the drug is not a “silver bullet” but rather a steppingstone toward better treatment options for COVID-19 patients. During a May 12 press conference, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state Secretary of Health Nate Smith announced that Arkansas had received approximately 50 doses of remdesivir for severely ill COVID-19 patients.

See more definitions of terms and other information about the pandemic on our website’s COVID-19 in Arkansas page.

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