The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus – 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has been implicated in over 900,000 cases in the United States alone and has been found to affect as many as 28% of healthcare workers (HCW) worldwide. The most current statistics from Iceland, China, and Italy indicate that up to 50% of infected patients may be asymptomatic or with negligible symptomatology. This, added to the national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the need to reuse PPE, lends to the significantly increased risk to healthcare providers.
The highest concentration of viral particles resides within the nasopharynx. The virus is thought to spread via respiratory droplets with the potential for transmission via inhalation of droplets, contact to the nose and mouth with infected materials, and airborne transmission. Given that frontline workers are involved in high-risk procedures including intubation, bronchoscopy, proning patients (which can lead to droplet production) and in some cases are reusing PPE, finding ways to reduce viral load or viral exposure are paramount.
Povidone-iodine (PVP-I) is a broad-spectrum antiseptic with activity against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It has been previously used in both intranasal preparations against MRSA as well as oral preparations in in-vitro studies of SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, H1N1, and rotavirus with good efficacy.
Due to the known breadth of its antiviral activity and similarities in molecular structure, it can be extrapolated that PVP-I should have robust activity against SARS-CoV-2. Eggers et al found that at a concentration of 1% there was a reduction of viral activity of 99.99% in in-vitro assays. At 2 minutes, a concentration of 0.23% was enough to reduce viral loads appreciably.
PVP-I is widely used as an antiseptic and is well-tolerated and has been shown to have little to no effect on mucociliary clearance, olfaction, or thyroid function if iodine holidays are taken.
In this study, front line healthcare workers will be asked to complete a pre-participation survey and screened for COVID positivity. They will then be given premade PVP-I gargles and nasal sprays, as well as a calendar card to mark compliance. PVP-I nasal spray and gargle (10% diluted 1:30) will be used prior to the start of a shift, during “lunch break”, and at the end of shift. First, the nasal spray will be sprayed in the nose (2 sprays each naris). For adequate coverage, the participant should be able to taste the iodine or see it in the back of the throat. This should be left in place for 30 seconds. Then, the participant will gargle the solution for 30 seconds and not have anything to eat or drink by mouth for 30 minutes. Treatment will continue for 3 weeks, or until the healthcare worker presents with COVID symptoms. Participants will then be tested for COVID positivity and asked to fill out a second questionnaire assessing study tolerability. At completion of the study, they will be asked to turn in their calendar card to assess how many applications they were able to complete.
Given the high rate of asymptomatic carriers, a second arm will also be planned for patients who have a 7+ day hospitalization or who are set to undergo a significant surgical procedure. These patients will be offered participation in the study as well and will be given the same questionnaire and undergo preoperative testing if they consent. For patients in the study group, PVIP gargle and nasal sprays will be applied preoperatively or shortly after admission and enrollment in the study for the non-operative group. The patients will then be retested in 2 weeks or as directed by the presentation of symptoms concerning for infection with SARS-CoV-2.