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Science + Tech

New Findings on Kids and Infectiousness. And More from Science Journals

The latest roundup of pandemic findings gathered by The Tyee.

Brian Owens 13 Apr 2021 | TheTyee.ca

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 and the Lancet.

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.

Kids are less infectious, but more may be infected than thought

Children appear to be less likely than adults to spread COVID-19 when they are infected, according to a study at the University of Manitoba. Researchers looked at swabs from both children and adults who had tested positive and found that the samples from children were less likely to grow the virus in a test tube, and had lower levels of the virus overall than those from adults — indicating that they are less infectious.

This good news is tempered by the fact, however, that other studies have found that asymptomatic infections are more common in children, and higher numbers of them have been infected than previously thought. A study from Germany tested blood samples from children and found that six times more children were infected with the coronavirus than reported via PCR tests during the first wave, and three to four times more during the second wave. More than half of these children reported no symptoms.

Canadian Medical Association Journal, April 9, 2021

Med, April 8, 2021

Kids’ immune systems already primed to fight COVID-19

Part of the reason children tend to be less susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19, and less likely to spread the virus, may be because some parts of their immune system are already able to fight the disease.

Working with blood samples collected before the pandemic, researchers found that children had B cells — the part of the immune system that recognizes invaders and produces antibodies — that could bind to SARS-CoV-2 without having encountered it before, as well as some other common coronaviruses. Adults had few such cells. The researchers suggest that exposure to other coronaviruses may stimulate the production of these cross-reactive cells, and that this response is stronger or more prevalent in children.

Science, April 12, 2021

Students made little progress learning from home

School closures and online learning have been a common tool used to fight the pandemic, but they are taking a toll on childrens’ education. A study in the Netherlands looked at results from national standardized tests in math, spelling and reading before and after the first lockdown last spring and found a drop of about three percentage points overall, suggesting students made little or no progress learning at home. Losses were up to 60 per cent larger among students from disadvantaged families. The Netherlands has a strong and equitable school funding system, high rates of internet access, and experienced a fairly short lockdown — so the results may have been much worse in countries with weaker education systems or longer lockdowns.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 7, 2021

More nuanced approach to vaccine priority needed in Canada

In most parts of Canada, people are being prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines based on risk factors for severe disease, such as age or other health conditions like obesity. But at least 75 per cent of Canadians have one risk factor, and two-thirds have two or more. When that many people are eligible for prioritization, it ceases to be a useful way of deciding who gets the shot, say researchers. Instead, we should take a more nuanced approach and prioritize people based on geographic and occupational risk factors — providing vaccines to those in economically marginalized neighbourhoods where people live and work in close proximity and the risk of infection is highest.

Canadian Medical Association Journal, April 9, 2021

Vaccines may protect breastfeeding babies

Nursing mothers who receive a COVID-19 vaccine may pass on protective antibodies to their baby through breast milk for several months after vaccination. Researchers found a huge boost in COVID-19 antibodies in breast milk two weeks after the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the level remained high throughout the study, which lasted almost three months.

American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, March 30, 2021

COVID-19 linked to psychiatric and neurological conditions

More than one-third of people who survived COVID-19 were diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric condition within six months of their infection, according to a study of more than 230,000 patients. Anxiety and mood disorders were the most common, at 17 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. Strokes and dementia were rarer, but still elevated especially among those who had been in intensive care, where seven per cent had a stroke and almost two per cent were diagnosed with dementia. These diagnoses were more common in COVID-19 patients than in those with the flu or other respiratory tract infections over the same time period, suggesting a specific impact from COVID-19.

The Lancet Psychiatry, April 6, 2021

Religion protected mental health, but hampered pandemic response

Religious people experienced less mental distress than secular people during the early days of the pandemic in the United States, but they also showed less concern about and support for public health efforts aimed at saving lives. The researchers believe this is related to the intense political polarization around the pandemic in the U.S. — religious people, especially whites, tend to be more conservative and endorse Republican politics, the same political positions that downplayed the threat of the virus.

Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, April 7, 2021

HakaiTyeePartnershipLogo.jpg

People who trust TV and social media are less informed about COVID-19

People who rely on social media and television for news are less likely to get the facts right about COVID-19, according to study conducted during the early days of the pandemic. People who trusted government health websites were most likely to get questions about the virus right, while those who listed television as their most trusted source were less likely to answer the questions correctly. People who listed Facebook as their most trusted source — or as an additional source — were least likely to provide the correct answers.

Current Medical Research and Opinion, April 11, 2021

Misinformation spreads from US into Canada via social media

Canadians who are heavy users of social media like Twitter are more likely to be exposed to misinformation about COVID-19 originating from the United States, embrace false beliefs about COVID-19, and subsequently spread them to other Canadians, according to a study at McGill University. The researchers found that most of the misinformation circulating on Twitter shared by Canadians was retweeted from U.S. sources, and Canadians who followed more American users were more likely to post misinformation.

Frontiers in Political Science, March 29, 2021

Some silver linings to lockdown in New Zealand

Two-thirds of people in New Zealand believed there were “silver linings” to the nationwide lockdown in March and April last year — widely considered one of the strictest in the world. People mentioned a wide range of positive experiences during lockdown, from pride in the country’s response, to having more free time to exercise, take up hobbies, or build relationships with their neighbours. Increased flexibility in working from home and reduced time spent commuting was also frequently mentioned, as were the benefits to the environment.

PLOS One, April 1, 2021  [Tyee]

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