Baylor Scott & White Medical System has joined the Duke Clinical Research Institute in a national program called the Healthcare Worker Exposure Response and Outcomes Registry.

The HERO registry collects information from healthcare workers and is conducting clinical trials with the goal of finding a cure for COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.

Leading the study for Baylor Scott & White is Dr. Lizbeth Cahuyme-Zuniga, a transplant/infectious disease physician. Cahuyme-Zuniga is the principal investigator for the HERO Registry for Baylor Scott & White. She completed a fellowship in infectious diseases from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston in 2011 and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine with a general certification and infectious disease certification.

The study will cover a wide variety of topics to see how the virus is affecting healthcare workers on a daily basis, with an overall goal of establishing a clinical database for the information. It will also create a platform for different clinical trials in the future that are geared toward healthcare workers. Baylor Scott & White is one of 40 academic and healthcare centers in the nation where this type of research is being conducted.

“The HERO program is a national program,” Cahuyme-Zuniga said. “The healthcare workers will be answering surveys on such questions about stress, burnout and anxiety that has been affecting all (people) across the country.

“This is a program that will include all healthcare workers throughout the nation in different areas and different departments,” she said. “These might include physicians, microbiologists, nurses, pharmacists and first responders. Any healthcare worker affected by COVID-19 can participate in this program.”

According to the HERO website, the registry is open to all people working in healthcare doing any job, not just licensed professionals. To join the study a person must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. healthcare worker in any healthcare setting. Knowledge gained from the registry will be shared with other groups from around the country.

Cahuyme-Zuniga told Scrubbing In, Baylor Scott & White’s online health publication, that it’s important to find a cure for COIVD-19 as well as keep healthcare workers and their families safe. Healthcare workers can face both physical and emotional problems as they serve others, she said.

The registry will also ask healthcare workers about their concerns on personal protective equipment, transmissibility and immunity perceptions amongst workers.

And, through the registry, workers will be given the chance to participate in a clinical trial if they want. Those wanting to opt-in will be screened, with any person that is at risk of developing side effects excluded from the trial.

“The very first clinical trial is the one with hydroxychloroquine,” Cahuyme-Zuniga said. “It is being studied to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. This study, which is the first clinical trial, will last for about eight weeks, with the healthcare worker asked to take a medication or a placebo for about four weeks. They will be answering different questions weekly.

“The clinical trial is a double-blind where participants can either receive a placebo or the medication itself,” she said. “This is one of the factors that makes it a more strong and solid of a study in research.”

Cahuyme-Zuniga said the clinical trial is being overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a Data and Safety Monitoring Board will follow the study weekly. The DSMB’s purpose is to oversee and monitor clinical trials to ensure participant safety and the validity and integrity of the data. For the clinical trial, researchers are looking for about 15,000 regional healthcare workers to participate.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, hydroxychloroquine is used to treat malaria in areas or regions where it is known that other medicines may not work. Hydroxychloroquine may also be used to treat coronavirus in certain hospitalized patients.

Cahuyme-Zuniga said the need for the data is critical because of the impact the disease is having on a global scale.

“We have gotten data from other parts of the United States that between 5- to 20-percent of healthcare workers will eventually acquire the infection so, we know the risk is there,” Cahuyme-Zuniga said. “There have been questions about protective personal equipment. The healthcare workers are going through a lot of anxiety. There is a lot of questions about ‘am I bringing this to my family?’ All of these questions are trying to be addressed with these studies.”

Cahuyme-Zuniga encourages the public to take all necessary precautions in preventing the spread of COVID-19, saying that, in her career as a physician, she hasn’t seen a virus like this one.

“As the numbers in Texas continue to go up, keep social distancing,” she said. “Keep at least 6 feet away and use masks all of the time. Wash your face and don’t touch your face. Those are the basic principles in order to protect yourself and your families.”

Healthcare workers interested in participating in the HERO Registry can visit the website at www.heroesresearch.org. The link to join is at the bottom of the main page.

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