Duke researchers studying probiotic's effect on COVID-19

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Researchers at Duke University are hoping to prove that a probiotic could reduce your risk of getting COVID-19, and if you do get infected, prevent you from getting severely ill.

Dr. Paul Wischmeyer and Dr. Anthony Sung are working to enroll 1,100 people in their nationwide study that looks at how gut health affects the immune system.

"We were a set-up for COVID-19 in many ways," said Wischmeyer, referring to Americans who mostly adhere to a Western diet. "If we were to look at people who've never seen Western food and processed food, and eat a much more diverse diet, their gut is much more diverse and diversity is good."

Enter the probiotic.

A probiotic is a living bacterial organism that Wischmeyer said, unlike vitamins that need a significant amount of time to affect the levels in your body, can change your gut health in a matter of days.

"Probiotics on the other hand, are little living healthy bacteria that can enter your gut and they can repopulate the normal bacteria in a very healthy way and push out the bad bacteria, for one, and help fight things like viruses that aren't supposed to be there," he said.

For their study, Wischmeyer said they're using the probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, or LGG, that was studied in an NIH-funded trial and found to be safe and effective in reducing pneumonia in ICU patients.

"Right when the pandemic started, Tony and I said, boy, this is a real opportunity," Wischmeyer said. "I think we could help a lot of people very safely and develop a treatment that's very inexpensive that can be widely applicable around the world and in the U.S."

If someone you live with in your home has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last three days, you're eligible to sign up for the study.

Wischmeyer said he and Sung have already enrolled 150 patients and will keep the study open for the next year, encouraging anyone who qualifies to get involved.

"We think this is an opportunity for people to really contribute to the COVID effort to stop this disease and fight back," Wischmeyer said.
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