Rutgers University has launched the nation's largest prospective study of health care workers exposed to COVID-19. 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.

Dr. Reynold Panettieri Jr., professor of medicine and vice chancellor for Translational Medicine and Science at Rutgers, said 829 health care workers were recruited from University Hospital in Newark and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.

Data will be collected every two weeks for the next six months to see who tests positive and who develops antibodies. For the first time, researchers will have a prevalence of the disease in health care workers who are on the front lines.

To date, researchers aren't sure how many get infected but 6 to 8% of healthcare workers with substantial exposure to patients end up with positive test results.

Panettieri said the predominance is in women mostly because the nurses have the greatest risk of exposure compared to physicians and respiratory therapists.

While they are fully recruited for this study, Panettieri said there are two other therapeutic trials that are not fully recruited and volunteers are needed.

One study is in hospitalized patients who are both positive and symptomatic. They will get azithromycin, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of infections, and hydroxychloroquine, which is approved for the treatment of malaria and autoimmune diseases.

The other study is for asymptomatic positive patients who either get the standard of care of a combo of azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine or hydroxychloroquine alone.

"What we hope to see in both of these studies is that the therapies that we think are successful actually decrease [virus] shedding in both of these patient types," said Panettieri.

To volunteer for a study, call 732-235-7356 or send an email to statewide_research@cinj.rutgers.edu.

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