MADISON, Wis. – All essential workers who cannot perform work duties remotely are now eligible to take part in a prevention research study at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The study is investigating whether commonly used oral and nasal antiseptic, in addition to masks and hand hygiene, can help prevent COVID-19 infections. These workers include police officers, firefighters, daycare workers, grocery store workers, retail employees, restaurant staff, mail carriers and bus drivers, etc.
The study, Role of Naso-oropharyngeal Antiseptic Decolonization to Reduce COVID-19 Viral Shedding and Disease Transmission (SHIELD study), launched in the summer of 2020 and was initially only for frontline healthcare workers.
“Throughout the pandemic, community spread has been prevalent. While healthcare workers are at risk, so too are people working other essential jobs,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Health and co-principal investigator of the SHIELD Study. “Plus, many of these essential workers do not have access to the same PPE healthcare workers have, and they more often encounter people not wearing masks. We think these antiseptic interventions could prevent COVID-19, so we decided to open enrollment to a wider range of at-risk individuals.”
While vaccinations are ramping up, this study is important because it will help health experts understand if the antiseptic intervention can protect people who do not get vaccinated.
It could also help people who have been vaccinated, because vaccines have not always shown equal effectiveness against new variants of the virus, and study leaders hypothesize this intervention could work against other SARS-CoV-2 variants, including new COVID-19 variants.
“If this study shows that the intervention reduces the amount of virus present in participants’ noses and reduces diagnoses of COVID-19, it may also be useful against other respiratory viruses such as influenza or future emerging viruses,” said Dr. Safdar.
So far, the study has enrolled 75 participants and study leaders would like to enroll at least 25 more participants, though more are welcomed. This is a ten-week trial for each participant. For three of those weeks, participants will use a mouthwash containing chlorhexidine gluconate four times a day, and nasal swabs containing povidone iodine two times a day. Participants will report any COVID-19 symptoms or diagnoses during that time and will also collect nasal samples using shallow nostril swabs to allow measurement of SARS-CoV-2 virus levels. The study will track COVID-19 diagnoses and viral measurements (how much virus is in the nose) in study participants. Researchers anticipate having results of the study later this summer.
Povidone iodine and chlorhexidine gluconate are antiseptic agents commonly used in healthcare settings to kill microorganisms that can cause infections, and are often applied to the skin, nose, or mouth before and after surgery to prevent infections. In lab settings, these antiseptics have proven effective in killing coronaviruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
The study is funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program. Dr. Daniel Shirley, medical director of infection control at UnityPoint Health—Meriter is co-principal investigator with Dr. Safdar. Both are infectious disease physicians at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.