Weekly Coronavirus Update: Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Here is a wrap-up of the latest Coronavirus research and news. I hope this information is useful to some of you!

1. The largest contact tracing study to be conducted thus far uncovered a LOT about the spread of the virus. The study tracked 575,071 individuals who were exposed to 84,965 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in two states in India. First, the study offered support for the notion that super spreading is important in passing the virus on to others, as only 8% of those infected were responsible for 60% of new infections. Regardless of age, infected people who had close contact with others had a 2.6% chance of passing it on to someone in the community and a 9% chance with someone in their household. The study also found that children and young adults are key to spreading the virus, and they were more likely to contract it from someone in their peer group. The peer-reviewed study was published in the journal Science and can be found here: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/09/29/science.abd7672
For another interesting article discussing the importance of super-spreading, check out this one from the Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/k-overlooked-variable-driving-pandemic/616548/?fbclid=IwAR0ICRI9ygH9uCRHynbWVxwteFmYqgC7taU4xqCDgw6Reg_LHvJk_AIsjAk

2. We tend to think that as long as we’re 6 feet (2 metres) away from someone else, we’re not going to catch the virus. New research shows, however, that normal conversations can spread aerosol particles further than the recommended social distancing guideline of 6 feet. The researchers concluded that speech “creates a conical, turbulent, jet-like flow and easily produces directed transport over 2 metres in 30 seconds of conversation.” This highlights the need for proper ventilation (open windows when possible; air conditioning that uses fresh air instead of recycled air) in reducing the spread of the virus. The study was peer-reviewed and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/09/24/2012156117

Similarly, a letter published today in the journal Science from a group of virus-transmission experts stated that the airborne transmission of the virus is likely the most prevalent, and they urged public health officials to better communicate the risk. According to the letter, “aerosols containing infectious virus can also travel more than 2 m and accumulate in poorly ventilated indoor air, leading to superspreading events.” This underscores the need to properly ventilate AND wear masks, even when people are 2m apart. You can read the full letter here: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/10/02/science.abf0521

3. The immune responses of people who received the vaccine developed by Moderna (currently in Phase 3 trials) were found to be effective in older people. A peer-reviewed study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined a total of 40 adults between the age of 56–70. Participants developed several types of antibodies at levels similar to people who had recovered from Covid-19. This is a positive finding since older people have a higher death rate from the virus. Participants showed mild side effects such as fatigue, chills, headache, myalgia, and pain at the site of the vaccine injection. You can read the full study here: https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa2028436

4. New research published yesterday shed new light on the neurological issues experienced by many people with Covid-19 and severe outcomes for those with altered mental function. The researchers studied 509 hospitalized Coronavirus patients in the Chicago area, and found that during the onset of Covid, 42.2% experienced issues such as myalgias, headaches, encephalopathy (altered mental function), dizziness, loss of taste, and loss of smell. The percentage of patients experiencing these issues at the time of hospitalization was higher at 62.7%, and over the course of the virus, 82.3% of patients experienced at least one of these issues. Nearly one-third of patients had some type of altered mental function, ranging from confusion to delirium to unresponsiveness. Those patients had significantly worse medical outcomes, stayed in the hospital three times longer than other patients, and were 7% more likely to die. In an interview with the New York Times, the lead author also reported that only 32% were able to perform daily routine tasks such as cooking or paying bills after being discharged, compared to 89% of patients who did not have altered mental function. The peer-reviewed study was published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology and can be read in full here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/acn3.51210 and the New York Times article can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/health/Covid-patients-mental-state.html?referringSource=articleShare

5. Two studies that have NOT yet undergone peer-review found that a mutated form of the virus, which is now common in Europe and North America, is more infectious than the earlier versions of the virus. Both research teams, one from the University of Texas and one from the University of North Carolina, found that the mutated virus replicated more efficiently in cells from human airway tissues. Additionally, the UNC study looked at the virus transmission between hamsters, finding that it spread more quickly than the virus without the mutation. Obviously, these need to be peer-reviewed, but the fact that their findings were the same should give us more confidence that these findings are accurate. You can read the first study here: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.09.01.278689v1 and the second study here: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.09.28.317685v1

6. A new peer-reviewed study on hydroxychloroquine (a drug I never thought I’d become so skilled at spelling!) tested whether taking the drug would reduce the transmission of Coronavirus in hospital healthcare workers. The study included 132 participants, some of whom were given 600mg of hydroxychloroquine per day, and some of whom received a placebo. The study concluded that the drug did NOT prevent Coronavirus infections in the healthcare workers, providing even more evidence that the drug is not effective against Covid-19. This study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine and can be read in full here: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2771265

7. In long-term effects news, a study of 965 recovered Covid-19 patients in South Korea revealed that 91.1% of people reported experiencing at least one side effect of the virus after they recovered. Conducted by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the study found that fatigue was the most commonly reported long-term side effect (26.2%), followed by difficulty concentrating (24.6%). Other reported long-term effects included psychological or mental side effects and the loss of one’s taste or smell. The researchers said they are preparing the findings for peer review. Until then, you can read a news article about the study on the Reuters website here: https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-southkorea-study/nine-in-ten-recovered-covid-19-patients-experience-side-effects-study-idUSKBN26K1GC

8. In a recent write-up I mentioned the antibody treatment being developed by Eli Lilly. Another company, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, has also developed a monoclonal antibody treatment, which attaches to the virus and attempts to block it from infecting human cells. Thus far it has been tested in 275 infected individuals (and I believe this is the one Donald Trump was given), and it did not help individuals who already had antibodies against the virus. It did, however, help the patients who did not have antibodies. According to an article about the treatment on the Science website, it was effective in “powerfully reducing the amount of virus found in nasopharyngeal swabs and alleviating symptoms more quickly” in these patients. The company now plans to enroll 2,100 individuals to take part in the research. You can read the article about it here: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/09/provocative-results-boost-hopes-antibody-treatment-covid-19?utm_campaign=news_daily_2020-09-30&et_rid=715507499&et_cid=3503914

9. We’ve all heard that the loss of one’s sense of smell and/or taste is a symptom of Coronavirus. A new peer-reviewed study published in the journal Plos Medicine studied 567 individuals in the UK who reported a loss of smell and/or taste to their doctor in April or May. Of those, 77.6% were found to have antibodies for Covid-19. Those who experienced loss of smell were three times more likely to have antibodies compared to those who only had loss of taste. The authors concluded, “Our findings suggest that recent loss of smell is a highly specific COVID-19 symptom and should be considered more generally in guiding case isolation, testing, and treatment of COVID-19.” You can read the full study here: https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003358

10. Finally, your world update. Cases continue to rise in the US with a 14-day trend of 6% growth in daily case numbers. Yesterday there were 42,222 new cases and the total number of US deaths is over 210,000. States in which case numbers are growing fastest include North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Montana, and Utah.
— For my Indiana readers, your case numbers have moved into the “Where new cases are higher and staying high” category with a seven-day average of 1,101 new cases. There has been a 40% rise in cases over the past 14 days in Indiana.
— In the UK, cases are surging with a 178% increase over the past two weeks. The government lost some of the data on cases recently, resulting in skewed daily case numbers showing nearly 23,000 new cases on Saturday. The seven-day average of new daily cases is now 10,937 and yesterday’s total was 12,593. For context, the average back in May when the virus first peaked in the UK was only 5,126.
— In other world updates, Russia is seeing its worst numbers since May, with 11,615 new cases yesterday. Poland saw its worst day on Saturday with 2,367 new cases, and yesterday it had its highest number of deaths with 58. On Saturday, India became the third country (after the US and Brazil) to reach 100,000 deaths from the virus. Yesterday there were 61,267 new cases there.
US numbers: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html
Indiana numbers: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/indiana-coronavirus-cases.html
UK numbers: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/europe/united-kingdom-coronavirus-cases.html
Other world updates: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/oct/06/coronavirus-live-news-french-icu-patients-highest-since-may-trump-to-participate-in-next-debate

That’s all for this week. Please, please continue to stay safe, wear your mask, practice social distancing, and close the toilet lid when you flush!

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Andrea Geurin

Andrea Geurin

Social scientist with a Ph.D. and a journalism background.