• Studies: Hand Sanitizers Kill COVID-19 Virus, E-Consults Appropriate

    In a study yesterday in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Swiss and German researchers found that alcohol-based hand sanitizers recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) are effective in killing the novel coronavirus. The authors noted that while 30 seconds is the recommended time to rub hand sanitizers into the skin and was the time used in this study, most people don’t use them for that long. And a study yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine with important COVID-19 ramifications found that 70.2 percent of 6,512 electronic consultations (e-consults) made by 1,096 referring clinicians to 121 specialists were appropriate. While e-consults can increase patient access to specialists, minimize travel, reduce the time between referral and specialist feedback, and lower unnecessary in-person clinic visits—which is essential during the COVID-19 pandemic—data on their appropriateness and utility have been limited.

  • Head Lice Drug Ivermectin Being Studied as Possible Coronavirus Treatment

    An antiparasitic drug sometimes used to treat head lice has undergone preliminary studies for use in the fight against the coronavirus — and has shown promising results, according to reports. Yaron Steinbuch writes in the New York Post that while recent reports have focused on the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine as a possible miracle treatment, experts have expressed cautious optimism that ivermectin also could be used for COVID-19, ABC News reported. Ivermectin — which was developed in the 1970s and 1980s — was first used to treat tiny roundworms called nematodes in cattle, then for river blindness in humans, and most recently to rid people of head lice, ABC News reported. The drug’s antiparasitic prowess has landed it on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. And recently, a team of Australian scientists has studied ivermectin in vitro in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Coronavirus Cases: Mathematical Modeling Draws More Accurate Picture

    Mathematical modeling can take what information is reported about the coronavirus, including the clearly underreported numbers of cases, factor in knowns like the density and age distribution of the population in an area, and compute a more realistic picture of the virus’ infection rate, numbers that will enable better prevention and preparation, modelers say. “Actual pandemic preparedness depends on true cases in the population whether or not they have been identified,” says one researcher. “With better numbers we can better assess how long the virus will persist and how bad it will get. Without these numbers, how can health care systems and workers prepare for what is needed?”

  • The Coronavirus Crisis: A Catalyst for Entrepreneurship

    Throughout human history, crises have been pivotal in developing our societies. Pandemics have helped advance health-care systems, wars have fueled technological innovations and the global financial crisis helped advance tech companies like Uber and Airbnb. The present coronavirus pandemic will arguably not be an exception; entrepreneurs can be expected to rise to the challenge. Businesses play a key role both in helping society get through an economic crisis and in creating innovations that shape society after a crisis. So one key question is: how will the ongoing crisis influence future society? While it’s hard to predict the future, we can develop an understanding of what is ahead by analyzing current trends. It’s clear the post-pandemic future will be different. What’s happening during the crisis will have a lasting impact on society. Current signs of entrepreneurial initiative and goodwill give us some cause for optimism. In the words of Stanford economist Paul Romer: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

  • Putin’s Long War Against American Science

    A decade of health disinformation promoted by President Vladimir Putin of Russia has sown wide confusion, hurt major institutions and encouraged the spread of deadly illnesses. The Putin regime mandates vaccination at home, but has launched a broad and sophisticated disinformation campaign in an effort to lower vaccine rates in Western countries, with two goals in mind: discredit Western science and medicine, and weaken Western societies by facilitating the re-emergence of diseases such as measles, long thought to have been eradicated. The COPVID-19 epidemic has not escaped the notice of the Kremlin’s disinformation and propaganda specialists. “As the pandemic has swept the globe, it has been accompanied by a dangerous surge of false information,” William Broad writes. “Analysts say that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has played a principal role in the spread of false information as part of his wider effort to discredit the West and destroy his enemies from within.”

  • Coronavirus Research Done Too Fast Is Testing Publishing Safeguards, Bad Science Is Getting Through

    It has been barely a few weeks since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. The pace at which the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spread across the globe is jolting, but equally impressive is the speed at which scientists and clinicians have been fighting back.
    Irving Steinberg writes in The Conversation that he is a pharmacotherapy specialist and has consulted on infectious disease treatments for decades. “I am both exhilarated and worried as I watch the unprecedented pace and implementation of medical research currently being done. Speed is, of course, important when a crisis such as COVID-19 is at hand. But speed – in research, the interpretation and the implementation of science – is a risky endeavor,” he writes.
    The faster science is published and implemented, the greater the chances it is unsound. Mix in the panic and stress of the current pandemic and it becomes harder to make sure the right information is communicated and adopted correctly. Finally, governing bodies such as the World Health Organization, politicians and the media act as sources of trustworthy messaging and policy making. Each step – research, interpretation, policy – has safeguards in place to make sure the right information is acquired, interpreted and implemented. But pace and panic are testing these safety measures like never before.

  • Point-of-Care Tests for Respiratory Infections Could Save U.K. Millions, Study Finds

    Comprehensive use of currently available point-of-care tests (POCTs) to diagnose respiratory infections could save England’s National Health Service (NHS) up to £89 million ($110 million US) a year, according to a cost analysis published yesterday in the Journal of Medical Economics. Chris Dall writes in CIDRAP that the savings would result from fewer antibiotics being prescribed for the type of acute respiratory infections (ARIs) that are most likely caused by viruses, fewer return trips to the doctor, and fewer antibiotic-related adverse events (AEs). And the savings could rise significantly if more accurate diagnostic tests were available, the authors of the analysis suggest.

  • In the Rush to Innovate for COVID-19 Drugs, Sound Science Is Still Essential

    Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have been at the center of debate in recent weeks over which drugs should be used to treat COVID-19. Neither product has strong evidence to support use for this purpose, and small studies reported to date have either had significant flaws or failed to demonstrate effect. Nonetheless, the president can’t seem to stop pushing them, arguing that patients have nothing to lose. As physicians, bioethicists and drug law experts, we have a responsibility to inject caution here. As public officials and scientists rush to innovate, no one should overlook the critical role of strong regulatory protections in supporting our ability to actually figure out which drugs work against COVID-19. Weakening commitment to science and evidence during this crisis truly would be “a cure worse” than the disease.

  • The Best Hopes for a Coronavirus Drug

    If there is a way to stop COVID-19, it will be by blocking its proteins from hijacking, suppressing, and evading humans’ cellular machinery.
    Sarah Zhang writes in The Atlantic that the new coronavirus has, at most, twenty-nine proteins in its arsenal to attack human cells. That’s 29 proteins to go up against upwards of tens of thousands of proteins comprising the vastly more complex and sophisticated human body. Twenty-nine proteins that have taken over enough cells in enough bodies to kill more than 80,000 people and grind the world to a halt.
    If there is a way—a vaccine, therapy, or drug—to stop the coronavirus, it will be by blocking these proteins from hijacking, suppressing, and evading humans’ cellular machinery.

  • Rethinking Biosecurity Governance

    Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from the current coronavirus pandemic is how to learn future lessons without having to experience a pandemic, whether natural in origin or made by humans. We must rethink and test assumptions about relationships between biological research, security, and society to plan for biosecurity threats.

  • Coronavirus: There’s No One Perfect Model of the Disease

    The world is gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the spread of a virus called SARS-CoV-2. Since the emergence of this new virus, mathematical modelling has been at the forefront of policy decision-making around the disease. Different models depict different scenarios. Do these seemingly differing findings mean that one model is more accurate than the other? And if so, which one is correct? In truth, credible models developed by respectable research teams are mathematically sound and elegantly answer their posed questions using appropriate data. So more importantly than answering the question “which one is correct?” — we need to understand the differences between the different models and discuss why they come to seemingly different conclusions.

  • Understanding SARS-CoV-2 and the Drugs that Might Lessen Its Power

    The interconnectedness of the modern world has been a boon for SARS-CoV-2. Without planes, trains and automobiles the virus would never have got this far, this fast. Just a few months ago it took its first steps into a human host somewhere in or around Wuhan, in the Chinese province of Hubei. As of this week it had caused over 120,000 diagnosed cases of covid-19, from Tromsø to Buenos Aires, Alberta to Auckland, with most infections continuing to go undiagnosed.
    But interconnectedness may be its downfall, too, the Economist writes. Scientists around the world are focusing their attention on its genome and the 27 proteins that it is known to produce, seeking to deepen their understanding and find ways to stop it in its tracks. The resulting plethora of activity has resulted in the posting of over 300 papers on Medrxiv, a repository for medical-research work that has not yet been formally peer-reviewed and published, since February 1st, and the depositing of hundreds of genome sequences in public databases. (For more coverage of covid-19 see our coronavirus hub.)

  • Tiger at Bronx Zoo Tests Positive for COVID-19

    A four-year-old female Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the coronavirus.
    The tiger, named Nadia, is believed to be the first known case of an animal infected with COVID-19 in the United States.
    The BBC reports that the Bronx Zoo, in New York City, says the test result was confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa.
    Nadia, along with six other big cats, is thought to have been infected by an asymptomatic zoo keeper. The cats started showing symptoms, including a dry cough, late last month after exposure to the employee, who has not been identified.
    The pandemic has been driven by human-to-human transmission, but the infection of Nadia raises new questions about human-to-animal transmission.

  • When What-If Scenarios Turn Real: COVID-19 Insights from Pandemic Modelers

    As a Yale University postdoctoral researcher, economist Jude Bayham studied the potential consequences of a global pandemic that could shutter schools, close businesses, and strain hospitals. That was back in 2013. Now, as the world grapples with the coronavirus, the Colorado State University economist and a multi-institutional team are turning those prescient modeling exercises into real insights for policymakers.

  • Trial Drug Can Significantly Block Early Stages of COVID-19 in Engineered Human Tissues

    An international team led by University of British Columbia researcher Dr. Josef Penninger has found a trial drug that effectively blocks the cellular door SARS-CoV-2 uses to infect its hosts.
    UBC says that the findings, published today in Cell, hold promise as a treatment capable of stopping early infection of the novel coronavirus that, as of April 2, has affected more than 981,000 people and claimed the lives of 50,000 people worldwide.
    The study provides new insights into key aspects of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and its interactions on a cellular level, as well as how the virus can infect blood vessels and kidneys.