Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90
MDA workers admit a coronavirus patient for treatment, April 2, 2020.

Israel’s Health Ministry on Thursday approved a drug treatment that was originally designed to fight the West Nile virus for coronavirus patients. The approval was requested by doctors at the Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak. According to a report in Kan 11 News, trials of the drug, Favipiravir, also known as T-705, Avigan, or favilavir, on COVID-19 patients will begin Sunday, and will involve 25 patients, 8 of whom are in critical condition and will receive the treatment first.

Meanwhile, Israel is experiencing a severe shortage in reagents – the substance added to a system to test if a chemical reaction occurs. In response, the Health Ministry instructed MDA to reduce the number of daily tests from 6,000 to 5,000. The shortage is the reason Israeli labs don’t operate 24/7. According to Kan 11, Israel now has enough reagents for 10,000 tests a day for more than one week. More reagents were ordered, but because of a global shortage it is unknown when they will arrive.

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And Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv is the first medical facility in the world to have developed a protocol for the families of a dying coronavirus patients to say goodbye to them. The medical center now offers parents, children and siblings of dying patients their last moment of grace, in full protective gear, at the bedside of their loved one.

Favipiravir was developed by Toyama Chemical, a subsidiary of Fujifilm, and was approved for use in Japan in 2014, against viral strains which are unresponsive to current anti-viral treatments. Like certain other experimental antiviral drugs, it is a pyrazinecarboxamide derivative (Pyrazinamide is a medication used to treat tuberculosis). In experiments conducted in animals, Favipiravir has shown activity against influenza viruses, West Nile virus, yellow fever virus, foot-and-mouth disease virus, and other flaviviruses, arenaviruses, bunyaviruses and alphaviruses. The common features of all these viruses is their being composed of single-stranded RNA and are commonly transmitted through bites by mosquito or ticks.

Favipiravir has also shown activity against enteroviruses and Rift Valley fever virus, which are transmitted through the intestine. It has shown limited efficacy against Zika virus and against rabies.

In mid-March, the National Medical Products Administration of China approved the first-ever use of Favipiravir on coronavirus patients. On March 18, Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s science and technology ministry, said Favipiravir had produced encouraging outcomes in clinical trials in Wuhan and Shenzhen involving 340 patients.

“It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment,” Zhang told reporters (Japanese flu drug ‘clearly effective’ in treating coronavirus, says China).

The Chinese public broadcaster NHK reported that patients in Shenzhen who took the Favipiravir turned negative for the coronavirus after a median of four days after becoming positive, compared with a median of 11 days for those who were not treated with the drug. X-rays confirmed improvements in lung condition in 91% of the patients who were treated with Favipiravir, compared to 62% of those without the drug.

Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center was established in 1990 on the outskirts of Bnei Brak and has 320 beds with 18 medical departments and 32 outpatient clinics and institutes. These days, as the Haredi community of Bnei Brak is fast becoming to most hard hit by the coronavirus, Mayanei Hayeshua has decided to become the vanguard in trying the new anti-viral medicine on its patients.

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