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Infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett answers viewer questions about COVID-19: Part 6
HALIFAX -- COVID-19 has changed the lives of Maritimers in many ways in a short period of time.
The information surrounding the virus can be overwhelming and, at times, hard to understand.
Scientists continue to work around the clock to study the virus and treatments, including Dr. Lisa Barrett.
Dr. Barrett is a medical doctor and clinician scientist with expertise in infectious disease and human immunology.
She is leading a COVID-19 treatment and immunity study, launched by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which evaluates the effectiveness of the treatments on patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and to learn more about immunity.
In addition to a PhD and MD from Memorial University, an internal medicine residency at Dalhousie University, and an infectious disease fellowship at the University of Toronto, Dr. Barrett’s training includes post-doctoral training at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.
During her training at the National Institute of Health in Maryland, Dr. Barrett worked with prominent American physician and immunologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is a member of the coronavirus task force in the United States.
Dr. Barrett sat down with CTV News Atlantic anchor Steve Murphy Monday night to provide answers to the ever-changing questions about COVID-19 and details about her work.
Below is a transcript of the interview:
Steve Murphy: What sort of treatments have we been using and do you have a sense that any of these treatments might be working?
Dr. Barrett: We looked around at what other groups and people were studying around the world, both anti-viral medications that knock down the virus itself, as well as anti-immune treatments that keep your immune system from causing inflammation in the lungs. Those are medications that we’ve incorporated into this study.
More so than the exact medications that we are using, because those may change … what we do every couple of weeks as a scientific group is, we look around the world and see if there are new things and try and include new medications that become promising or available into our study as we move along.
Steve Murphy: Is hydroxychloroquine still on the table?
Dr. Barrett: Yes, it is still part of the study, because we aren’t actually certain whether it works or not.
There has been a lot of really, really distinct questions about that data. So what we’ve done is said, let’s hold on that medication. The World Health Organization is reviewing it and Health Canada, we’re part of a Health Canada regulated study, and we have voluntarily said let’s hold on that. Let’s see what happens with their analysis of all the cases that have come up in the world, while we continue on with other parts of the study.
Steve Murphy: 10,000 Canadians are going to be tested to see if they have antibodies or immunities to this disease, are you a part of that group?
Dr. Barrett: There are many different groups across the country that are going to be part of that. It is going to become a part of a strategy that will become part of every single province being able to detect who has been exposed before. We were waiting for a very good antibody test and I might say they will get better as we go along.
The antibody test doesn’t tell you if you have the virus at the moment, it just tells you if you’ve been exposed in the past. It is important at a population but not personal level. It tells us how many people may have been exposed and gives us a good sense of how far the virus actually went.
We still don’t know if those antibodies mean that people have been protected. That’s part of the reason that we are doing the other part of the treatment study, which is to assess how people develop immunity over the course of their infection and afterwards, and whether it is in fact a very effective type of immunity.
Steve Murphy: Who will be involved in your study ?
Dr. Barrett: From a patient perspective, we will start with people who are quite ill, moderate and severe hospitalized patients. Those patients will be from around different parts of the province.
This is a bit of a unique study in that we aim to include most patients who are hospitalized in Nova Scotia in one of the arms of this study.
There are researchers involved in the clinical care side of things. (We are working with reasearchers) both in Halifax at Dalhouise University, we are working with immunologists there as well, and in addition to that there are people from ICU, from intermediate care, from our clinical care COVID units around the province, as well as our clinical researchers, both in immunology and over at the Nova Scotia Health Authority. In addition, there are researchers outside our province in different parts of Canada, and actually in the United States as well.
Steve Murphy: This phase of the pandemic seems to be ending. Is it a forgone conclusion that there is going to be a second wave of the pandemic?
Dr. Barrett: Until we have way more immunity in our communities, so way more people who have been exposed and have immunity, or we develop a vaccine that provides us with protection, I very much don’t think this virus is going away.
Not just myself, but many other people who study viruses and viral infections, are pretty darn sure there is going to be a second wave. But, we’ve done a pretty good job this time of making this a manageable wave. The same key things will be important in making a next wave just as manageable.
Steve Murphy: We have been hearing a lot of talk about the possibility that this is actually a blood vessel disease and not just a respiratory virus, is there any truth to that?
Dr. Barrett: It may well be true that there becomes some inflammation or involvement of blood vessels and/or some blood clots that happen. That’s probably true, but it is still a viral infection and we still need both anti-inflammatory and anti-viral treatments. This is not just a blood vessel disease. It is definitely a viral infection and we need to remember that.