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.
Half of Canadian employees unable to self-isolate
Half of Canadian employees report that they are unprepared to self-isolate if they or a family member becomes ill with COVID-19, according to a survey by researchers at the University of Guelph. While most people supported public health measures, 49 per cent said they would still be expected to work if they were sick, and 49 per cent said they would not be paid if required to self-isolate. Younger people were more likely to report they had no access to paid sick leave and would be expected to go to work even if ill. Those with lower income, those who couldn’t work from home and those without paid sick leave were all less likely to feel confident that they could comply with self-isolation.
Canadian Journal of Public Health, March 24, 2021
Infection after vaccination is possible, but very rare
A study of more than 36,000 health-care workers inoculated with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines in California found that 379 of them — around one per cent — subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. The majority of those, 71 per cent, tested positive within the first two weeks after getting the first dose, and just 37 people tested positive after getting both doses. The risk of post-vaccine infection in this study was slightly higher than in the clinical trials of the vaccines, which could be due to the fact that health-care workers are more likely to be exposed to the virus and were tested daily regardless of symptoms — while the trials did not test for asymptomatic infections.
New England Journal of Medicine, March 23, 2021
Rapid antigen testing in Slovakia helped cut cases in half in a week
In October and November 2020, Slovakia tested the entire population with rapid COVID-19 antigen tests, and required those who tested positive to self-isolate along with their families. The hardest-hit counties then did a second round of tests. In counties subjected to two rounds of tests, the approach helped to decrease the prevalence of positive tests by more than 50 per cent, while primary schools and workplaces remained open. In contrast, a month-long lockdown in the U.K. in November resulted in just a 30 per cent decrease in prevalence.
Coronavirus litter is harming animals
The mountain of litter from discarded masks and gloves is harming animals around the world. Researchers in the Netherlands have collected reports from social media, newspapers and a citizen science website — covidlitter.com — of animals ingesting or becoming entangled in masks and gloves, including penguins, apes, fish and dogs, and even birds incorporating discarded masks into their nests.
Animal Biology, March 22, 2021
Shame can prevent people from reporting infections
Feelings of shame and stigmatization at the idea of contracting COVID-19 are linked to lower compliance of social distancing and the likelihood of reporting infection to authorities and potential contacts. But people who trust their government’s response to the pandemic and feel a mutual solidarity are more likely to report infections to authorities and acquaintances.
Frontiers in Psychology, March 16, 2021
Regular vaccine updates may be needed for a few years
The flu vaccine needs to be updated every year to deal with the viral strains in circulation, but it is not yet clear whether the same will be true of SARS-CoV-2. Researchers compared the evolution of common cold coronaviruses with that of influenza viruses and predicted that, while the pandemic is ongoing, vaccines will need to undergo regular updates. A few years into the post-pandemic period, however, vaccines are likely to remain effective for longer.
Virus Evolution, March 20, 2021
Flu shot reduced COVID-19 infections
People who received a flu shot during the 2019-20 flu season were 24 per cent less likely to test positive for COVID-19 when the pandemic hit than those who did not get the shot. And those who did test positive had fewer complications — they were less likely to require hospitalization or mechanical ventilation and had a shorter length of hospital stay.
American Journal of Infection Control, Feb. 22, 2021
Rare genetic variant linked to severe disease in young men
A rare genetic mutation that affects how the body responds to infection puts some younger men at higher risk of severe COVID-19, according to a study in Italy. The researchers found that mutations in a gene that codes for Toll-like receptors — molecules on the surface of immune cells that detect viruses and kickstart the immune response — were strongly linked to serious infections in young men without any of the usual risk factors for severe disease.
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