COVID-19 Sci-Weekly: New Research Bites on the Impact on Brain, Use of New Drug, Effectiveness of Vaccines and More | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel


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From the very first hours of the coronavirus pandemic, the scientific community has devoted its entire might itself to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Researchers have been progressively gaining fresh, significant insights regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the body, potential cure and protections and the long-term consequences that the pandemic may have on our society. While it is close to impossible to stay informed about every tiny development, we endeavoured to compile the significant advances humanity made in COVID-19 research in the past week.

Preliminary findings on the effects of COVID-19 on our brain

Lately, the impact of COVID-19 on the brain has been gaining a lot of traction in the neuroscience community. Recently, large-scale research on brain abnormalities in patients infected with COVID-19 in the past showed a significant reduction in the thickness of grey matter in their brains. Changes in the grey matter are typical signs of ageing, so it is puzzling to see this in coronavirus survivors.

Using the UK Biobank database of over 45,000 people, the researchers evaluated brain imaging data of patients before and after the COVID-19 diagnosis. Preliminary findings showed diminished cognitive abilities post-illness even in mild cases that had required no hospitalisation. Moreover, the brain regions affected were all linked to the olfactory bulb, and these signs are common in Alzheimer’s patients. Are loss of smell and taste and the reduced brain volume all linked? Does COVID-19 affect the brain like Alzheimer’s? Further research is required to answer these questions and to understand the long-term changes in the brain post-COVID-19 infection.

Can the antiviral drug Molnupiravir be used against COVID-19?

Two biotherapeutics companies, Merck (US) and Ridgeback (Canada), recently announced that the antiviral medication molnupiravir had reduced the risks of hospitalisation in COVID-19 patients with the mild or moderate disease by half in Phase-3 trials. At the interim analysis, 7.3% of Molnupiravir-treated patients were hospitalised through day 29, compared to 14.1% of Placebo-treated patients who were either hospitalised or had died.

Merck intends to seek Emergency Use Authorization in the United States as soon as possible and submit applications to regulatory agencies worldwide. Molnupiravir, if approved, could be the first oral antiviral medicine for COVID-19. Dean Li, Merck’s head of research and development, likens Molnupiravir to Thor’s hammer against the SARS-CoV-2 regardless of the variant.

As far as India is concerned, Dr Shekhar Mande, director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), believes that with COVID-19 approaching the endemic status in India, pharmaceuticals will play a critical role in treating the disease. While the drug is still in the final stages of its trial, the CSIR director-general thinks it is a promising drug in the war against COVID-19.

In case you’re still sceptical about getting vaccinated…

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British researchers at the University of Oxford have conducted a study that adds to the growing evidence that vaccines can reduce transmission of the delta variant.

The scientists reviewed national records of about 150,000 interactions linked back to approximately 100,000 initial cases. People who had been fully or partially vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines, as well as those who had not been immunised, were included in the samples. The study, yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, found that when infected with the delta variant, a given contact was 65% and 36% less likely to test positive if the person from whom the exposure occurred had been completely vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, respectively. In simpler terms, if you come in contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19’s delta variant, you would be 65% less likely to contract the infection if immunised by the Pfizer vaccine, and 35% less likely if inoculated by AstraZeneca.

Another study in the journal The Lancet Microbe also shows that immunity gained after natural infection is short-lived, and remaining unvaccinated can increase the risk of getting re-infected with COVID-19.

The ifs and whens of the COVID-19 vaccines’ booster shots

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) continue to assess new data on the need for and timing of a booster dose for authorised COVID-19 vaccines. They take into account the effectiveness of each vaccine, the waning immunity after dosages, global vaccine supply, and global and national equity.

As of now, the evidence on the necessity for booster doses after an initial vaccination series is sparse and still equivocal. In the face of ongoing global vaccine supply constraints, the administration of booster shots seems unwise as many priority populations will be deprived of even the primary vaccinations, opine the experts. WHO reports that the focus is still on rapidly increasing global vaccination coverage with the primary series to prevent severe disease. During the Extraordinary SAGE meeting in November 2021, the body will again discuss the evidence for a booster dose.

PCR-Test Purchases in China Increased Just Before First COVID Cases

There have been several theories linked to the origin and spread of the SARS-CoV-2. The speculation and endless search for evidence of the prevalence of COVID-19 in China before December 2019 have been fruitless so far. However, a new report released by an Australian-U.S. firm, Internet 2.0, specialising in digital forensics and intelligence analysis, has sparked the investigation once more.

As per Internet 2.0, the Hubei province, the initial epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, increased its purchases of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing equipment in 2019, with the majority of the rise occurring in the second half of the year. Based on the research, Internet 2.0 concluded that the pandemic began much earlier than when China informed the WHO about COVID-19. However, several officials and China itself claims the report to be groundless as the country was also dealing with African swine fever at the time.

35% of COVID-19 survivors suffer from long-term symptoms

A recent study revealed that over 35% of people had at least one long-COVID symptom diagnosed 3-6 months after COVID-19 infection. Researchers identified nine core long-COVID symptoms that occur 90-180 days after COVID-19 has been diagnosed namely abnormal breathing (8%), abdominal symptoms (8%), anxiety/depression (15%), chest/throat pain (6%), cognitive problems like brain fog (4%), fatigue (6%), headache (5%), muscle pain (1.5%), other pains (7%), any of the above features (37%). Scientists acknowledge that more research is urgently needed to understand the causes behind such long-haul COVID-19 patients. The mechanisms underlying the diverse symptoms that can affect survivors need to be examined as well.


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