Common Cold May Limit COVID-19 Disease Severity

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The following is a brief roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Exposure to common colds may impact COVID-19 severity

It is plausible to think that previous exposure to common cold viruses might contribute to variations in COVID-19 severity, researchers said on Tuesday in the journal Science.

In patients with COVID-19, the immune system’s T cells learn to recognize and target the new coronavirus. But some people who were never infected with the virus nonetheless have T cells that also recognize it.

Researchers had suspected that in these individuals, past exposure to other coronaviruses, such as those that cause the common cold, had somehow primed their T cells to recognize and attack this new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), and new research appears to confirm that. In studies of human blood samples collected well before the new coronavirus was discovered, researchers found T cells that were equally reactive against the new virus and four types of common cold coronaviruses. The strongest T cell responses to the new coronavirus were associated with the spike protein the virus uses to enter human cells. “We knew there was pre-existing reactivity, and this study provides very strong direct molecular evidence that memory T cells can ‘see’ sequences that are very similar between common cold coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2,” coauthor Alessandro Sette of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology said in a statement.

Convalescent plasma lowers COVID-19 death risk

Infusions of antibody-rich blood plasma from people who have recovered from the new coronavirus, known as convalescent plasma, can lower the risk of death for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, according to a pooled analysis of data from eight earlier studies of more than 700 hospitalized patients around the world. Researchers found that mortality rates were roughly 13% in patients who received convalescent plasma versus about 25% for those who did not get the treatment. Convalescent plasma was shown to be safe in an earlier study of 5,000 hospitalized adults with severe or life-threatening COVID-19. In that study, fewer than 1% of patients had any serious adverse effects in the first four hours after transfusion. The current study could not account for differences in factors such as how sick patients were, how much plasma they received, how long they were sick before the received it, and how long doctors followed them afterward. “Given the safety of plasma administration in COVID-19 patients, the results … provide encouragement for its continued used as a therapy,” the researchers write in a report published ahead of peer review.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid and Megan Brooks; Editing by Bill Berkrot; Reuters)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now
Military helps enforce Australian state’s isolation rules

A group of 500 military personnel will be deployed to enforce COVID-19 isolation orders in Australia’s Victoria state, with anyone caught in breach of those rules facing hefty fines as high as A$20,000 ($14,250.00). The only exemption will be for urgent medical care.

Nearly a third of those who contracted COVID-19 were not home isolating when checked on by officials, requiring tough new penalties, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.

Trump vows to sue Nevada over voting by mail

President Donald Trump vowed on Monday he would sue Nevada after the state’s Democratic lawmakers passed a bill to send mail-in ballots to every voter ahead of November’s presidential election in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump, who has repeatedly claimed without evidence that voting by mail will lead to rampant fraud, has raised a series of questions about the integrity of the election. Election experts say voter fraud of any kind, including incidents related to mail-in ballots, is extremely rare.

Nevada is the seventh state to send ballots to all registered voters for the Nov. 3 election between Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

No silver bullet

The World Health Organization warned on Monday that there might never be a “silver bullet” for COVID-19 in the form of a perfect vaccine and that the road to normality would be long, with some countries requiring a reset of strategy.

“There are concerns that we may not have a vaccine that may work, or its protection could be for just a few months, not more. But until we finish the clinical trials, we will not know,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Teaching by loudspeakers

One overcast morning in a farming village in hilly western India, a group of schoolchildren sat in designated, socially-distanced spots on the mud floor of a wooden shed for their first class in months. There was no teacher, just a voice from a loudspeaker.

The recorded lessons form part of an initiative by an Indian non-profit organisation that aims to reach 1,000 village students denied formal classes since the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close four months ago.

It reaches children who are usually the first in their families to go to school, with content covering part of the school curriculum, as well as social skills and English language lessons. “It gives me happiness that my son can now sing songs and narrate stories,” said Sangeeta Yele, a mother.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Tuesday that the world faces a “generational catastrophe” because of school closures amid the coronavirus pandemic and said that getting students safely back to the classroom must be “a top priority.”

(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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