A NASAL spray from Boots that costs just £6 is to be tested to see if it could stop coronavirus.
The over-the-counter treatment contains a special ingredient – which is a form of seaweed – to dampen the symptoms of cold and flu.
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Now, researchers at Swansea University will test Boots' Dual Defence Nasal Spray, which costs £5.99 for 20ml, against Covid-19.
The team will enrol 480 healthworkers, including nurses and doctors in their study.
Medics are slightly more at risk of catching the coronavirus due to working in close proximity to Covid-19 patients.
Half will be given the nasal spray, and half will be given a placebo – a dummy drug with no effect.
Experts will then look at how many workers caught Covid-19 and if the cheap over-the-counter spray is preventative.
They will also measure the severity of the disease in those who do catch it, including if there are any differences in duration of illness, time in intensive care and even death rates between the two groups.
The results are expected as early as March 2021.
Principal investigator Dr Zita Jessop said: "After seeing the effects of this pandemic on colleagues caring for patients with Covid-19, we wanted to find a way for research to help protect frontline NHS staff.
"Previous studies highlighted the effectiveness of iota-carrageenan-based nasal sprays against coronaviruses, indicating promise against SARS-Cov-2.
"If the results of this randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial are positive as we expect, this has the potential to add an extra prevention strategy in the fight against Covid-19.”
Richard Evans, Executive Medical Director, Swansea Bay University Health Board, said: "Although the prospect of effective vaccines is now on the horizon, it’s still vitally important that we explore all opportunities to investigate new treatments for Covid-19."
HOW DOES THE SPRAY WORK?
The special ingredient in Boots Dual Defence Nasal Spray is Carragelose®, a patented version of iota-carrageenan, a form of seaweed.
It acts as a barrier by forming a gel to trap cold and flu virus particles as they enter the body.
This reduces the likelihood of infection or halts the amount of virus entering the body and therefore reducing the severity of symptoms.
One study found symptoms of the common cold were relieved two days quicker in those using carrageenan nasal spray compared to those who were not.
Another described carrageenan as 'potent' at blocking the rhinovirus – a type of virus that causes the common cold – in the lab.
Trials concluded that iota-carrageenan nasal spray also had a significant effect on reducing viral load against other human coronaviruses and a flu strain called influenza.
The average decrease in disease duration was three to four days compared with placebo in patients with human coronavirus OC43/229E.
The spray is made by the Austrian firm Marinomed, sourcing ingredients from Zanzibar and the Phillippines.
The special ingredient is based on carrageenan, a red edible seaweed.
It is used as a thickener in a variety of cosmetic and food products, ranging from sexual lubricants, ice cream, shampoo and baby milk formula.
The coronavirus enters the body through the nose or mouth, where it binds to cells before replicating.
Carrageenan works by forming a gel inside the nasal cavity and airways, acting as a barrier to the virus.
Boots, the only British company licensed to sell it, say on the website the seaweed is "clinically proven" to dampen cold and flu symptoms.
The study at Swansea comes off the back of promising test tube studies that showed the spray could block the virus.
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