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Science + Tech

Good News on Immunity and Vaccines. And More Science Journal Findings

The latest roundup of pandemic research gathered by Hakai Magazine.

Brian Owens 26 May 2020 | Hakai Magazine

Brian Owens is a freelance science writer and editor based in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. His work has appeared in Hakai Magazine, Nature, New Scientist, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, The Lancet and others.

Compiled by veteran medical journalist Brian Owens, this roundup of some of the newest science on the COVID-19 pandemic, straight from the scientific journals, is presented by Hakai Magazine in partnership with The Tyee.

Good news on immunity and vaccines

Two studies in monkeys and one in humans have shown promising results when it comes to understanding immunity to COVID-19. The first results from a phase 1 human clinical trial of a potential vaccine have found it safe and able to generate an immune response. The vaccine uses a weakened version of a common cold virus to deliver the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s spike protein. The cells of people who receive the vaccine then use that code to create the protein and develop antibodies to it.

A study in macaques tested a different kind of vaccine that delivers just the spike protein’s genetic code on a tiny circle of DNA. This DNA vaccine effectively protected the monkeys against infection. Yet another study on macaques found that monkeys that had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 developed protective immunity to the virus and could not be reinfected 35 days after their initial infection. Despite these advances, the researchers caution that it will be many months before any vaccine is ready.

The Lancet, May 22, 2020

Science, May 20, 2020

Science, May 20, 2020

Anxious about COVID-19? There’s an app for that

A collection of free mobile apps called IntelliCare, developed at Northwestern University, can significantly reduce anxiety and depression, according to a clinical trial of the apps. The apps offer short exercises to de-stress and reduce worrying. They offer methods to help make life feel more meaningful; mantras to highlight strengths; and strategies for keeping up with daily activities. The developers have also added new content to specifically help people deal with the stresses of the pandemic.

JAMA Psychiatry, May 20, 2020

Rolling cycle of lockdown could help manage pandemic

An alternating cycle of 50 days of strict lockdown followed by 30 days of increased freedom could be an effective way of managing the pandemic. This would lead to a prolonged pandemic period — more than 18 months — but would lead to significantly fewer deaths than a looser lockdown cycle.

European Journal of Epidemiology, May 19, 2020

HakaiTyeePartnershipLogo.jpg

Some patients can still test positive after recovery

A study of 60 people in China who had apparently recovered from COVID-19 found that some appeared to still be infected with SARS-CoV-2 even after they tested negative to standard tests and were discharged from hospital. Ten recovered patients tested positive to alternative tests using throat swabs or stool samples a few days to weeks after they were discharged. Since the patients were isolated at home after discharge, it is unlikely that they were reinfected. This indicates the infection was persistent. It is not clear whether they could still infect other people.

JAMA Network Open, May 22, 2020

Fewer, but more severe, strokes in COVID-19 patients

Fewer people suffer strokes as a result of COVID-19 than previously thought, according to a large study in New York. It found that less than one per cent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 during a one-month period also suffered a stroke, in contrast with smaller studies in China and Italy that reported rates of two to five per cent. But the strokes that did occur tended to be severe — those affected were younger, had worse COVID-19 symptoms, and were at least seven times more likely to die than stroke victims who were not infected.

Stroke, May 20, 2020

Social fragmentation linked to more severe outbreaks in older people

Areas in Italy with higher family fragmentation and more residents in nursing homes experienced the highest rates of COVID-19 infections among people over 80. Researchers had speculated that Italy’s high rates of infection were in part due to greater connectedness between the generations in Italian homes. Instead, this study found that the highest rates of infection among older people were in regions with higher proportions of single-person homes and more people living in nursing homes. The reason for the link is not clear, but the researchers suggest that older people living in the community were better at physical distancing with help from friends and family.

PLOS ONE, May 21, 2020

Why kids are less susceptible to COVID-19

Children express lower levels of the gene that spurs the production of ACE2 receptors in their nasal cells, the virus’s first point of contact with the body. Since ACE2 receptors are how the SARS-CoV-2 virus enter cells, this could help explain why children appear to be less susceptible to COVID-19.

JAMA, May 20, 2020

Dementia gene raises risk of severe COVID-19

Having a faulty gene linked to dementia also doubles the risk of developing severe COVID-19. Carrying two faulty copies of the APOE gene, which increases the risk of dementia by 14 times, also doubles the risk of COVID-19, even in people who did not have dementia. This indicates that the higher risk of infection seen in people with dementia may not be just a result of age or exposure in care homes, but may also have an underlying genetic cause.

Journals of Gerontology, May 26, 2020  [Tyee]

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