Rutgers Launches Prospective Study of Health Care Workers Exposed to COVID-19

Rutgers Launches Prospective Study of Health Care Workers Exposed to COVID-19

There have been numerous reports of health care workers and hospital employees dying of COVID-19 due to exposure caused by lack personal protective equipment or simply location. In response to this, Rutgers University in New Jersey has begun a prospective study to test what percentage of the hospital workforce may become infected. The study also includes clinical trials to explore potential drug treatments, antibody testing, and long-term health tracking to better understand how to effectively treat the disease and control its spread.

“Health care workers throughout the world are on the frontlines of battling COVID-19,” said Rutgers Chancellor Brian Strom, in a press release. “Our hope is that this study and other scientific developments can give state, national, and global leaders the evidence-based tools to ultimately end this pandemic.”

Roughly 850 employees— comprising 550 health care providers and close to 300 non-health care workers—from Rutgers, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, and University Hospital have volunteered for the research which is the nation’s largest prospective study of health care workers exposed to COVID-19. The study is being coordinated by Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS), the university’s academic health center. The study includes a series of clinical trials that will explore new drug treatments, antibody testing, and long-term health tracking in the hope of providing insight into how to treat the disease and prevent its spread. Testing will be carried out at Rutgers’ RUCDR Infinite Biologics, which last week received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to begin the nation’s first saliva-based test for COVID-19.

This research is the second of a two part series. The university has also launched a clinical trial for patients who test positive for COVID-19 and are symptomatic. That trial will determine if azithromycin combined with hydroxychloroquine is better than hydroxychloroquine alone for treatment of patients with COVID-19. Azithromycin is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of infections. Hydroxychloroquine is approved by the FDA for the treatment of malaria and autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

The prospective study will examine two cohorts of workers—some with direct patient exposure and others with no direct patient contact. Initial results suggest a gender disparity in risk: women have been infected at 13 times the rate their male counterparts. This may be attributed to the existing disparity in the nursing workforce, which currently includes more women than men.

The research will follow participants for six months to determine infection rates in the workforce of those who regularly treat patients and for those without direct patient exposure. The investigators hope to determine the proportion of the workforce who will become infected. Such information is critically important in determining susceptibility characteristics for infection. The trial could also determine whether some health care workers will develop immunity in the pandemic.

“Because the pandemic is affecting our hospitals as we are providing care at the front-line, we may be able to discover what puts people at greatest risk for acquiring the infection and possibly determine why most get mild illness but some become severely ill,” said Martin J. Blaser, professor of medicine and microbiology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“Collectively, our studies will provide a wealth of data designed to better arm the health care workforce to minimize self-risk while improving care to Americans in this pandemic crisis,” said Reynold Panettieri Jr., director of the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science.

There is no standard antiviral therapy approved by the FDA for the treatment of people with COVID-19. At present, clinical management includes infection prevention, control measures and supportive care.