(CNN)Hope for treating the novel coronavirus could be on the horizon, as the first US study of a drug to treat the illness is underway.
So far, there is no cure or vaccine for the virus, which has infected more than 80,000 people and killed over 2,700 worldwide in the past few months.
News of the drug testing came Tuesday, just as a federal health official warned that the virus will eventually start spreading in US communities.
A clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the antiviral drug remdesivir in adults diagnosed with coronavirus started at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, the National Institutes of Health said.
The first participant is an American who was evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.
Also on Tuesday, top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned about the potential spreading of the novel coronavirus in the US.
“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
There have been more than 80,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide. The death toll is now more than 2,700, the majority in mainland China.
The US has now confirmed 57 cases, US health officials said Tuesday, a number that is expected to grow.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” Messonnier said.
There are currently no specific medicines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat the novel coronavirus. Without one, a top infectious disease doctor said Tuesday, the US could see mortality rates from the coronavirus similar to those in China.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has calculated a case fatality rate of about 2% for the novel coronavirus — meaning about 2% of those known to be infected have died. That’s higher than influenza, which is about 0.1%, but much lower than severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, (9.6%) and MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome (35%).
“I think we would expect something similar to that because we don’t have an antiviral drug,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Tuesday night on “Cuomo Prime Time.” “The people who are dying who require intensive care, for example in an intensive care unit — maybe even intubation for respiratory assistance in breathing — the Chinese have that. They have a pretty good system, and yet you’re still seeing the 2% mortality. … So if, in fact, we do get a pandemic that does impact us in this country, I think you’re going to see comparable types of morbidity and mortality.”
Remdesivir, the drug being tested at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, was previously tested in humans for Ebola and in animals for MERS and SARS.
There are clinical trials of remdesivir going on in China, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases developed the current study to match those trials, the NIH said in its news release.
Participants in the US treatment group w