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COVID-19: 5 reasons to be cautiously hopeful – Medical News Today

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The death toll for COVID-19 is on the rise, and so is the total number of cases. In the context of this global pandemic, feeling overwhelmed by all the negative information is a natural response. But researchers are also hard at work trying to understand, treat, and prevent the new coronavirus. We take a look at some of their results.

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Emerging evidence may offer a glimmer of hope with regards to the treatment and prevention of COVID-19, but we must interpret the results with caution.

For live updates on the latest developments regarding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, click here.

As of yesterday, the total number of deaths from COVID-19 across the world has surpassed 10,000.

Currently, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the globe stands at 244,000.

These numbers can induce restlessness and worry.

The importance of taking precautions and staying safe during this global pandemic cannot be overestimated, but it is also helpful to look at some emerging research that could pave the way for future treatment and prevention.

In this article, we round up some of this evidence, which has featured recently on Medical News Today.

Researchers in Hong Kong have evaluated the impact that the outbreak has had on 43 public hospitals there.

The numbers are encouraging: In the first 6 weeks since the start of the outbreak, 413 healthcare workers dealt with 42 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of these employees, 11 had unprotected exposure to the new coronavirus.

As a result of implementing best practices for infection control, none of the healthcare staff contracted the virus during the study period. Furthermore, no hospital-acquired infections occurred.

Dr. Vincent C.C. Cheng, from the Department of Microbiology at Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, and his colleagues conclude:

“Appropriate hospital infection control measures can prevent healthcare-associated transmission of the [new] coronavirus […] Vigilance in hand hygiene practice, wearing of surgical masks in the hospital, and appropriate use of personal protective equipment in patient care […] are the key infection control measures to prevent hospital transmission of the virus.”

A study involving four rhesus macaques found that contracting SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — protected against future reinfections.

The scientists reinfected two of the four monkeys with the virus 28 days after the initial infection.

A total of “96 nasopharyngeal and anal swabs tested negative after the reexposure of SARS-CoV-2,” report the researchers. The euthanasia and necropsy of one of the two monkeys confirmed these results.

“Taken together, our results indicated that the primary SARS-CoV-2 infection could protect from subsequent exposures, which have […] vital implications for vaccine design [and disease prognosis],” conclude the authors of the study.

MNT contacted Martin Bachmann, a professor of vaccinology at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute in the United Kingdom, on the broader subject of COVID-19 and building up immunity to the virus.

“I can tell you, if you got [COVID-19] and you got really sick, I am sure that will make an antibody response that will also last.”

– Prof. Martin Bachmann

Prof. Bachmann, who is also the head of the department of immunology at the University of Bern in Switzerland, continued: “But, if you have the virus and it only replicates a little and never really reaches the lymph nodes, then maybe you don’t really make [an antibody response], but then you have not really been sick. [Of] anyone who has been really sick, I would be surprised to find anyone who didn’t make an antibody response.”

A trial is currently taking place to test a potential SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for the first time in humans.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have funded the trial, which is taking place at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

In the trial, 45 healthy volunteers will receive a vaccine that contains a segment of genetic code copied from SARS-CoV-2. As the vaccine does not contain the actual SARS-CoV-2, the participants will not develop COVID-19.

Government officials caution that it may take 12–18 months before the vaccine reaches the market and explain that the main purpose of this current trial is to make sure that there are no serious side effects.

However, many other efforts are underway for devising new vaccines. In this article, our research editor, Yella Hewings-Martin, Ph.D., rounded up several projects that identified a potential vaccine and therapy targets for SARS-CoV-2.

Doctors may be able to use an age-old method called “passive antibody therapy” to treat COVID-19, suggests research featuring in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The researchers who authored the paper say, “Deployment of this option requires no research or development,” as the method has been around since the 1930s.

The method involves collecting blood from a person who has had the virus and recovered from it. Using the serum — the part that contains infection-fighting antibodies — researchers hope to be able to inject another person, thus either preventing an infection or helping to fight it off.

Dr. Arturo Casadevall, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, and co-author of the new paper, says:

“It’s all doable — but to get it done, it requires effort, organization, resources… and people who have recovered from the disease who can donate the blood.”

A new case study, appearing in the journal Nature Medicine, documents the case of a COVID-19 patient who recovered from the condition within days.

The patient was a 47-year-old woman who had contracted the virus in Wuhan, China, and the researchers examined her immune response in their effort to understand her recovery.

Prof. Katherine Kedzierska, Head of the Human T cell Laboratory in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and her colleagues found an increase in immunoglobulins — the most common type of antibodies — in the woman’s blood samples.

The scientists also found a high number of key immune cells, such as specialized helper T cells, killer T cells, and B cells, 7–9 days after symptom onset.

“This is an incredible step forward in understanding what drives recovery of COVID-19. People can use our methods to understand the immune responses in larger COVID-19 cohorts and also understand what’s lacking in those who have fatal outcomes.”

– Prof. Katherine Kedzierska

For live updates on the latest developments regarding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, click here.

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Coronavirus: Phone data shows Canadians avoiding restaurants, transit, stores, offices – Global News

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In mid-March, Canada started to shut down in response to the new coronavirus.

It was visible all around us, as schools and offices emptied.

And it was also visible to Google, as location data sent by our phones showed a quick and profound change to our way of life.

Starting in about the second week in March, Canadians’ phones started spending less time in workplaces, on transit and in retail stores, and more time at home, our phones told Google.

The data showed that we also started shopping much less than normal. The reduction was about 60 per cent for destinations like restaurants and movie theatres, but only about 35 per cent for grocery stores and pharmacies.

“It’s less appealing than before to go grocery shopping,” says Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois. “Most grocery stores, especially during peak hours, you have to wait outside. You go in, and you feel that pressure of doing as much as you can in an allotted time.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Is Canada considering using phone tracking to enforce social distancing?


Coronavirus outbreak: Is Canada considering using phone tracking to enforce social distancing?

“Because of lineups, because of what’s been happening with online grocery shopping, people are actually forced to plan. If you have to plan, you don’t have to show up to the grocery store as often.”

Restaurants have been only allowed to serve customers takeout food in much of the country. To the extent that people use that option, they — and their phones — are spending much less time in restaurants than if they sat down for a meal.

“You show up at the counter, you’re trying to physically distance yourself from everyone else, and you want to get out as soon as possible. You’re not going to have a chat or anything like that. You’re just going to leave.”

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Data in Google’s reports come from users who enabled Google’s “Location History” feature on their devices. The company said it adopted technical measures to ensure that no individual could be identified.

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Google cautions that the accuracy of location tracking and their ability to put places into categories (like knowing that the place your phone is in is a grocery store) varies from region to region, so the company discourages using the data to compare countries with each other.


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Coronavirus: Can we go hiking? Canadians are getting mixed messages

The data shows Canadians spending 16 per cent less time in parks than they did in mid-February, but this data is harder to interpret.

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The coronavirus has changed how Canadians use outdoor space, but in contradictory ways.

Some provinces, like Nova Scotia, have shut down parks entirely, while some cities have left them open as outdoor space, while closing features such as playgrounds.

On the other hand, public health officials say it’s fine to take walks outside, so long as people practise social distancing from people they don’t live with. And with many other outlets for spare energy closed off, there isn’t a whole lot else to do.

Also, the weather is much more inviting than it was in mid-February, confusing the data somewhat.

Here’s how patterns of daily life have changed in Quebec, at least so far the hardest-hit province:

On a global scale, the analysis of location data from billions of Google users’ phones is the largest public dataset available to help health authorities assess if people are abiding with shelter-in-place and similar orders issued across the world to rein in the virus.

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The company released reports for 131 countries, including Canada, with charts that compare traffic from Feb. 16 to March 29 to retail and recreational venues, train and bus stations, grocery stores and workplaces with a five-week period earlier this year.

Google said it published the reports to avoid any confusion about what it was providing to authorities, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive location tracking with the need to prevent further outbreaks.

The data often correlated with the severity of outbreaks and the harshness and breadth of orders imposed by governments.

Italy and Spain, two of the hardest-hit countries, both saw visits to retail and recreation locations such as restaurants and movie theaters plunge 94 per cent. The United Kingdom, France and Philippines had declines of more than 80 per cent while India, which went into a sudden 21-day lockdown on March 25, was also notable at 77 per cent.






2:03
Why contact tracing is so important for tracking the coronavirus


Why contact tracing is so important for tracking the coronavirus

In the United States, where state responses have varied greatly, and in Australia, where good weather initially prompted many people to go the beach before social distancing measures were ratcheted up, the drops were less steep at under 50 per cent.

In contrast, in Japan and Sweden, where authorities have not imposed harsh restrictions, visits to retail and recreation sites fell by roughly only a quarter. While in South Korea, which has successfully contained a large outbreak through aggressive testing and contact tracing, the decline was just 19 per cent.

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READ MORE:
Is giving up your phone privacy a fair trade if it slows coronavirus spread?

The data also underscores some challenges authorities have faced in keeping people apart. Grocery store visits surged in Singapore, the U.K. and elsewhere as travel restrictions were set to go into place.

The data also underscores how the mood of people around the world has shifted. In New Orleans, during its annual Mardi Gras celebrations Feb. 16-25, which has with hindsight been criticized for helping spread the virus, there were off-the-chart increases in traffic to transit stations, parks and businesses.

But three weeks later in Dublin, heart of the St. Patrick’s holiday celebrations, traffic was down at retail and recreational venues as the country ordered big events cancelled.






2:03
Why contact tracing is so important for tracking the coronavirus


Why contact tracing is so important for tracking the coronavirus

Google declined to comment on whether it has received any legal requests to share more detailed data to help with efforts to tackle the pandemic.

Facebook Inc., which like Google has billions of users, has shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for authorities in several countries. But the social media giant has not published any findings.

With files from Reuters

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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New study from UBC researcher outlines pathway toward blocking COVID-19 virus – CBC.ca

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The University of British Columbia announced Thursday that an international team led by Dr. Josef Penninger has found a potential drug that helps block infection from the virus that causes COVID-19.

Penninger, a biomedical researcher from Austria, is a professor in UBC’s faculty of medicine and director of the Life Sciences Institute there.

His study published April 2 in the peer-reviewed journal Cell focuses on a protein on the surface of human cells which is a key receptor for the spikes of glycoprotein characteristic in the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The study provides direct evidence that a protein called APN01 (human recombinant soluble angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 – hrsACE2) — is useful as an “antiviral therapy” for the novel coronavirus, say its authors, because the virus binds to it rather than a cell wall.

Penninger has been working for decades to shine a light on cellular doorways, or receptors, that allow viruses entry into human organs. He’s now turned to the virus that causes COVID-19.

“This virus hits the good guy and gets rid of the good guy, and that’s why this virus is really dangerous because we lose protection of multiple tissues,” said Penniger in a telephone call from Austria where he is stuck because of the global lockdown to stop the disease’s spread.

There are now more than one million cases of COVID-19 worldwide and tens of thousands are dead. As the virus spreads so does the intense search for treatments, as there are no tested antiviral therapies yet.

Penninger has split his life between Vancouver and Vienna since 2018 and his Arnold Schwarzenegger-style accent sounds raspy after months of working 19 hours a day.

It was Penniger’s passion for the natural world that led him to the discovery of the receptor at the heart of his current research, while he was studying fruit flies in a Toronto university lab 21 years ago.

“I love fruit flies. … I’m totally obsessed with nature,” he said. “The virus, if you look at it, it’s beautiful.”

He and colleagues at the University of Toronto and the Institute of Molecular Biology in Vienna conducted earlier work on the same receptor using the SARS virus, which is also a coronavirus.

“This virus is a brother or sister of the SARS virus,” said Penninger.

Cell cultures analyzed in the study found the potential drug therapy called APN01 ‘significantly’ inhibited the coronavirus load, according to a UBC release. (IMBA/Tibor Kulcsar/University of British Columbia)

Human drug trials begin soon

APN01 is scheduled to begin clinical trials in Europe, according to the UBC news release.

Penninger said he twigged that his drug might be able to help back in January when a Chinese scientist published the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus and he saw the similarity to SARS.

So far, his team’s latest research related to COVID-19 has been conducted on cells and engineered human tissue in a laboratory setting.

Infectious disease experts say the research is preliminary, promising and needs human trials before it is anywhere near becoming a drug treatment. 

‘Promising’ say experts

Infectious disease physician and researcher at the University of Toronto, Isaac Bogoch, said the drug is interesting, but it will take time before it’s available even if it pans out in upcoming human trials.

“This is seen as one of the crucial pathways for COVID-19. This is clearly a big step in the right direction,” said Bogoch.

Arthur Caplan, founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s School of Medicine in New York City, said in an email the leap from a laboratory to the real worlds is huge.

“Very interesting. But, still a long way from proof of clinical safety or efficacy. Many things fail that look promising in a dish.

“Organized, controlled human testing is still very much needed before giving this to anyone.”

The former head of the Centre For Immunization and Respiratory Infectious Diseases with the Public Health Agency of Canada agrees.

“It looks like a promising drug; however, the real test will be what happens in humans … whether the dose that might inhibit the virus is achievable in humans and not too toxic to them,” said Dr. John Spika in an email.

The research was supported, in part, by federal emergency funding aimed at accelerating testing and development of potential cures or treatments to help deal with the outbreak, said UBC.

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Google releases location data from billions to show if coronavirus lockdowns working – Global News

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Alphabet Inc’s Google has published charts showing how the coronavirus has brought hard-hit Italy to a standstill, led to runs on grocery stores around the world and prompted a stark drop in going-out between Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day.

The analysis of location data from billions of Google users’ phones is the largest public dataset available to help health authorities assess if people are abiding with shelter-in-place and similar orders issued across the world to rein in the virus.

The company released reports for 131 countries with charts that compare traffic from Feb. 16 to March 29 to retail and recreational venues, train and bus stations, grocery stores and workplaces with a five-week period earlier this year.


READ MORE:
Countries opt for phone tracking amid coronavirus — should Canada?

Google said it published the reports to avoid any confusion about what it was providing to authorities, given the global debate that has emerged about balancing privacy-invasive location tracking with the need to prevent further outbreaks.

Story continues below advertisement

The data often correlated with the severity of outbreaks and the harshness and breadth of orders imposed by governments.

Italy and Spain, two of the hardest-hit countries, both saw visits to retail and recreation locations such as restaurants and movie theaters plunge 94%. The United Kingdom, France and Philippines had declines of more than 80% while India, which went into a sudden 21-day lockdown on March 25, was also notable at 77%.

In the United States, where state responses have varied greatly, and in Australia, where good weather initially prompted many people to go the beach before social distancing measures were ratcheted up, the drops were less steep at under 50%.






1:14
Coronavirus outbreak: Is Canada considering using phone tracking to enforce social distancing?


Coronavirus outbreak: Is Canada considering using phone tracking to enforce social distancing?

In contrast, in Japan and Sweden, where authorities have not imposed harsh restrictions, visits to retail and recreation sites fell by roughly only a quarter. While in South Korea, which has successfully contained a large outbreak through aggressive testing and contact tracing, the decline was just 19%.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

The data also underscore some challenges authorities have faced in keeping people apart. Grocery store visits surged in Singapore, the United Kingdom and elsewhere as travel restrictions were set to go into place. Visits to parks spiked in March in some San Francisco Bay Area counties under lockdown in California, forcing them to later put the sites off limits.

The data also underscores how the mood of people around the world has shifted. In New Orleans, during its annual Mardi Gras celebrations Feb.16-25, which has with hindsight been criticized for helping spread the virus, there were off-the-chart increases in traffic to transit stations, parks and businesses.

Story continues below advertisement

But three weeks later in Dublin, heart of St. Patrick’s holiday celebrations, traffic was down at retail and recreational venues as the country ordered big events canceled.


READ MORE:
Is giving up your phone privacy a fair trade if it slows coronavirus spread?

Within countries, there were wide gaps in behavior by region. California, which was the first in the U.S. with a statewide lockdown, cut visits to retail and recreation locations by half. In New York state, the slide in such visits was gradual as officials waited to impose strict curbs but they eventually fell 62%. By contrast, Arkansas, one of the few states without a sweeping lockdown, had the smallest decline at 29%.

The coronavirus has infected more than 1 million people globally, and COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, has killed 52,000, according to a Reuters tally.

There were no reports for China and Iran, where Google services are blocked.

BALANCING PRIVACY

Data in Google’s reports come from users who enabled Google’s “Location History” feature on their devices. The company said it adopted technical measures to ensure that no individual could be identified through the new reports.

“These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies,” Dr. Karen DeSalvo, chief health officer for Google Health and Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president for Google Geo, wrote in a blog post.

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2:03
Why contact tracing is so important for tracking the coronavirus


Why contact tracing is so important for tracking the coronavirus

China, Singapore, South Korea and other countries have asked residents to use apps and other technology to track their compliance with quarantines, but privacy activists argue such measures can compromise individual liberties.

Infectious disease specialists have said analyzing travel across groups by age, income and other demographics could help shape public service announcements.

Google, which infers demographics from users’ internet use as well as some data given when signing up to Google services, said it was not reporting demographic information. The company said, though, it was open to including additional information and countries in follow-up reports.

Google said consultations with officials in the U.S. and the World Health Organization helped inform the data shared.

The company declined to comment on whether it has received any legal requests to share more detailed data to help with efforts to tackle the pandemic.

Facebook Inc, which like Google has billions of users, has shared location data with non-governmental researchers that are producing similar reports for authorities in several countries. But the social media giant has not published any findings.

© 2020 Reuters

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